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Linear/Nonlinear Relations of Activity and Fitness with Children’s Academic Achievement


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 12 - p 2279–2285
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000362
Applied Sciences

A growing research base suggests that the benefits of physical activity (PA) and aerobic fitness for children extend beyond overall health/well-being to include academic achievement (AA). The majority of research studies on relations of PA and fitness with AA have used linear-only analytic approaches, thereby precluding the possibility that PA and fitness could have a differing effect on AA for those more/less active or fit.

Objective This study aimed to evaluate both linear and nonlinear associations of PA and aerobic fitness with children’s AA among a sample of 687 second and third grade students from 17 Midwest schools.

Study Design Using baseline data (fall 2011) from a larger 3-yr intervention trial, multilevel regression analyses examined the linear and nonlinear associations of AA with PA and with progressive aerobic cardiovascular endurance run (PACER) laps (i.e., aerobic fitness), controlling for relevant covariates.

Results Fitness, but not PA, had a significant quadratic association with both spelling and mathematics achievement. Results indicate that 22–28 laps on the PACER was the point at which the associated increase in achievement per lap plateaued for spelling and mathematics.

Conclusions Increasing fitness could potentially have the greatest effect on children’s AA for those below the 50th fitness percentile on the PACER.

1Department of Psychology and Research in Education, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; 2Sanford Research, Children’s Health Research Center, Sioux Falls, SD; 3Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Research Institute, Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS; and 4Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis, and Policy, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Address for correspondence: Stephen D. Herrmann, Ph.D., Sanford Health, 1305 W 18th Street, P.O. Box 5039, Sioux Falls, SD 57117; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2013.

Accepted for publication April 2014.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine