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The Longitudinal Associations of Fitness and Motor Skills with Academic Achievement

Syväoja, Heidi J.1; Kankaanpää, Anna1; Joensuu, Laura1,2; Kallio, Jouni1; Hakonen, Harto1; Hillman, Charles H.3; Tammelin, Tuija H.1

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 15, 2019 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print - Issue - p
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002031
Original Investigation: PDF Only

PURPOSE This study aimed to examine both independent and dependent longitudinal associations of physical fitness (PF) components with academic achievement.

METHODS 954 4th-7th graders (9-15y [Mage=12.5y], 52% girls) from nine schools throughout Finland participated in a two-year follow-up study. Register-based academic achievement scores (grade point average [GPA]) and PF were assessed in the spring of 2013-2015. Aerobic fitness was measured with a maximal 20-m shuttle run test, muscular fitness with curl-up and push-up tests, and motor skills with a 5-leaps test and a throwing-catching combination test. Structural equation modelling was applied to examine the longitudinal associations adjusting for age, gender, pubertal stage, body fat percentage, learning difficulties and mother’s education.

RESULTS The change in aerobic and muscular fitness were positively associated with the change in GPA (B=0.27, 99% confidence interval CI=0.06-0.48; B=0.36, CI=0.11-0.63, respectively), while the change in motor skills were not associated with the change in GPA. Better motor skills in year 2 predicted better GPA a year later (B=0.06, CI=0.00-0.11; B=0.06, CI=0.01-0.11), while aerobic and muscular fitness did not predict GPA. GPA in year 1 predicted both aerobic (B=0.08, CI=0.01-0.15) and muscular (B=0.08, CI=0.02-0.15) fitness, and motor skills (B=0.08, CI=0.02-0.15) a year later.

CONCLUSION The changes in both aerobic and muscular fitness were positively associated with change in academic achievement during adolescence, while the change in motor skills had only borderline significant association. However, better motor skills, although not systematically, independently predicted better academic achievement one year later, while aerobic or muscular fitness did not. Better academic achievement predicted better motor skills, aerobic and muscular fitness. Developmental changes in adolescence may induce parallel and simultaneous changes in academic achievement and PF.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal.

1LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, Jyväskylä, Finland;

2Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland;

3Department of Psychology and Department of Physical Therapy, Movement, & Rehabilitation Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Corresponding author: Heidi J. Syväoja, LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, Jyväskylä, Finland, Rautpohjankatu 8, FI-40700, Finland, tel. +358 (0)400248133, fax +358207629501,

This study was funded by the Academy of Finland (grant 273971) and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture (OKM/92/626/2013). The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest. The results of the present study do not constitute endorsement by ACSM. The Authors declare that the results of the study are presented clearly, honestly, and without fabrication, falsification, or inappropriate data manipulation.

Accepted for publication: 26 April 2019.

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine