Cross-Lagged Associations between Physical Activity, Motor Performance, and Academic Skills in Primary School Children

Eero Haapala, Anna Widlund, Anna-Maija Poikkeus, Rodrigo Antunes Lima, Soren Brage, Pirjo Aunio, Timo Lakka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Purpose Few longitudinal studies have investigated the interwoven longitudinal dynamics between physical activity (PA), motor performance, and academic skills in middle childhood. Therefore, we investigated the cross-lagged associations between PA, motor performance, and academic skills from grade 1 to grade 3 in Finnish primary school children. Methods A total of 189 children 6-9 yr old at baseline comprised the study sample. Total PA was assessed using a questionnaire filled out by parents, moderate-to-vigorous PA by combined heart rate and body movement monitor, motor performance by 10 × 5-m shuttle run test, and academic skills by arithmetic fluency and reading comprehension tests in grade 1 and grade 3. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling adjusted for gender, parental education, and household income. Results The final model fitted the data very well (χ237 = 68.516, P = 0.0012, root-mean-square error of approximation = 0.067, comparative fit index = 0.95, Tucker-Lewis Index = 0.89) and explained 91% of variance in the latent academic skills variable, 41% of the variance in the latent PA variable, and 32% of variance in motor performance in grade 3. Better motor performance in grade 1 was associated with higher academic skills in grade 3, but it did not predict PA. PA was not directly or indirectly associated with academic skills. However, higher levels of PA in grade 1 predicted better motor performance in grade 3. Academic skills did not predict PA or motor performance. Conclusions These results suggest that better motor performance, but not PA, predicts later academic skills. Academic skills in grade 1 do not contribute to PA or motor performance in the early school years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1465-1470
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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  • University of Helsinki

    Widlund, A. (Visiting researcher)

    1 Nov 202130 Jun 2022

    Activity: Visiting an external institutionVisiting an external academic institution

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