Purpose: The objectives of this study were to determine whether longitudinal changes in accelerometer-assessed moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were associated with changes in educational outcomes (i.e., academic performance and mathematics engagement) and to examine whether the association was nonlinear.
Methods: Longitudinal data were collected from 2,194 Australian adolescents (mean age = 13.40 years, standard deviation =.73) at two time points (Term 1, 2014, and Term 2, 2015). To measure the total MVPA, the adolescents wore an accelerometer for seven consecutive days. The participants responded to a questionnaire to measure mathematics engagement and completed a nationally administered numeracy test to assess academic performance.
Results: Latent change score models indicated that increases in MVPA had a positive quadratic association with National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) scores in girls (β =.39, p < .001) but not boys. In comparison, cross-sectional regression analyses indicated that MVPA had a positive quadratic association with NAPLA N scores in grade 7 (β =.92, p =.04) boys and in grade 9 boys (β =.60, p =.06), but not in girls. There was also a positive quadratic association between MVPA and school engagement in grade 9 boys (β =.77, p =.03).
Conclusions: Cross-sectional evidence indicated that boys who were more physically active had better educational outcomes than their less active peers, and girls who increased their regular physical activity showed improvements in academic performance. All students need to increase their physical activity levels for health and educational benefits, without compromising the time spent on study and homework.