Do more active teens perform better at school?

Encouraging your kids to play sport could increase their levels of resilience, according to new research

New European research has found that teens who are physically active appear to perform better at school than their non-active peers.

Carried out by researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, the new study looked at 635 adolescents, including 283 boys and 352 girls, who were between 11 and 13 years old.

The researchers assessed the teens' levels of physical activity using a questionnaire and gathered information on their school grades from the school registers. 

After taking into account potentially influencing factors such as parental education and pubertal status, the researchers found that over the two-year study period, the highly active adolescents performed better in school when compared to the teens who were continuously inactive. The association was also particularly strong among the boys. 

However, the findings, which are published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, also showed that increasing physical activity over the course of the two-year study did not automatically improve academic performance.

Instead, the results suggest that teens who increased their physical activity actually had lower academic performance during the follow-up compared to their more active peers.

The researchers say that based on the findings, it is not possible to determine a causal relationship between physical activity and academic performance -- it may be that teens who do better academically also choose a more active lifestyle.

"The link between physical activity and academic performance do not always reflect a causal relationship. It is possible that high levels of physical activity and good academic performance share the same attributes, such as high motivation towards the task at hand," says researcher Eero Haapala.

Nevertheless, the researchers also added that the new findings do not refute the results of previous studies, which have also shown that exercise can have small but positive effects of physical activity on learning and academic performance.

Previous studies have also found that teens with continuously low cardiorespiratory fitness have poorer academic achievement than their fitter peers.