Longitudinal Relationships of Fitness, Physical Activity, and Weight Status With Academic Achievement in Adolescents

J Sch Health. 2016 Oct;86(10):734-41. doi: 10.1111/josh.12424.


Background: To examine associations of cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity (PA) and weight status with academic achievement 1 year later. In addition, the mediating role of psychological variables was tested.

Methods: Longitudinal analyses included 1011 German students (M = 14.1 years, SD = 0.6 years). Cardiorespiratory fitness was determined with the 20 m shuttle run test. Compliance with PA guidelines was assessed through questionnaire. Weight status was based on body mass index percentiles. As proxy of academic achievement students' self-reported grades in Mathematics and German in their midterm report were averaged. Mediation analyses were conducted at follow-up testing general self-efficacy, depressed affect, and attention/hyperactivity problems.

Results: High levels of cardiorespiratory fitness predicted higher educational attainment (p = .007), while we found no longitudinal association for PA and weight status (p > .253). However, students being insufficiently physically active at baseline but meet PA guidelines at follow-up showed a significant improvement in educational attainment. The cross-sectional association between PA and academic achievement was mediated by students' general self-efficacy.

Conclusion: High fitness in adolescence is associated with higher subsequent academic achievement. The promotion of PA might benefit school performance because of enhanced fitness levels in the long-term and positive influences of PA in the shortterm. The association between weight status and educational attainment remains controversial.

Keywords: academic achievement; adolescents; fitness; physical activity; weight status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness
  • Students