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Longitudinal Associations between Physical Activity and Educational Outcomes


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2017 - Volume 49 - Issue 11 - p 2158–2166
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001351

Purpose This longitudinal study examined the role of leisure-time physical activity in academic achievement at the end of compulsory basic education and educational attainment in adulthood.

Methods The data were drawn from the ongoing longitudinal Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, which was combined with register-based data from Statistics Finland. The study consisted of children who were 12 yr (n = 1723, 49% boys) and 15 yr (n = 2445, 48% boys) of age at the time when physical activity was measured. The children were followed up until 2010, when their mean age was 40 yr. Physical activity was self-reported and included several measurements: overall leisure-time physical activity outside school hours, participation in sports club training sessions, and participation in sports competitions. Individuals’ educational outcomes were measured with the self-reported grade point average at age 15 yr and register-based information on the years of completed postcompulsory education in adulthood. Ordinary least squares models and the instrumental variable approach were used to analyze the relationship between physical activity and educational outcomes.

Results Physical activity in adolescence was positively associated with educational outcomes. Both the physical activity level at age 15 yr and an increase in the physical activity level between the ages of 12 and 15 yr were positively related to the grade point average at age 15 yr and the years of postcompulsory education in adulthood. The results were robust to the inclusion of several individual and family background factors, including health endowments, family income, and parents’ education.

Conclusion The results provide evidence that physical activity in adolescence may not only predict academic success during compulsory basic education but also boost educational outcomes later in life.

1LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, Jyväskylä, FINLAND; 2Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics, Jyväskylä, FINLAND; 3Department of Pediatrics, University of Tampere and Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, FINLAND; 4Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, FINLAND; and 5Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, FINLAND

Address for correspondence: Jaana T. Kari, M.Sc. (Econ), LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, Rautpohjankatu 8, 40700 Jyväskylä, Finland; E-mail:

Submitted for publication February 2017.

Accepted for publication June 2017.

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© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine