Prospective associations between participation in leisure-time physical activity at age 6 and academic performance at age 12

Daniela Gonzalez-Sicilia, Frédéric N Brière, Linda S Pagani
Preventive Medicine 2018 October 22, 118: 135-141
For many children, leisure time represents a privileged moment to engage in physical activity. This study aims to examine prospective associations between kindergarten participation in leisure-time physical activity and academic performance by the end of sixth grade. Gender-specific associations are also explored. Participants are from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, a 1997-1998 birth cohort from the province of Quebec, Canada (n = 2837). When children were age 6 (2004), mothers reported on their child's participation in three types of leisure-time physical activity (sports, other structured physical activities, and unstructured physical activities). At age 12 (2010), children's academic indicators were reported by teachers and by children themselves. Academic outcomes were then linearly regressed on leisure-time physical activity participation, while controlling for individual and family confounders. Unstructured physical activities were the most popular among both girls and boys. Sports were the second most popular activity among boys, whereas other structured physical activities were the second most popular among girls. Higher overall participation in leisure-time physical activity at age 6 was associated with better teacher-reported grades in language and math (β = 0.075 and β = 0.102, respectively) and self-reported grades in language (β = 0.103), as well as with higher classroom engagement (β = 0.077,) at age 12. Regression coefficients are standardized. All the associations were significant (p ≤ .05). Promoting leisure-time physical activity may be an effective way to encourage children to be active and to help them improve their academic performance, both leading to long-term wider benefits.

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