Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University College Dublin (2009) Proc Physiol Soc 15, PC75

Poster Communications

Correlations between physical activity and academic performance amongst A-level students: An Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme research project.

P. D. Langton1, L. Barnfield1, A. Du-Preez1, M. H. Randall1

1. Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.


The Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme (UAS) aims to improve achievement in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), increasing the proportion of school leavers studying STEM subjects in University. UAS students in our department also conduct a research project. Obesity is a huge social and economic problem and is set to become the largest cause of ‘ill health’ ahead of malnutrition and infectious diseases in developed countries (Yusuf S, 2004). Contributory factors include relatively low food costs, increasingly sedentary leisure activities and, for school children, reduced emphasis on competitive ‘team’ sports in schools. The findings that physical fitness is correlated with academic achievement (Chomitz et al., 2009) and that taking time from academic activities to favour physical activity does not reduce measures of academic outcome (Trudeau and Shephard, 2008) led us to question how physical activity impacts positively on academic performance. Participating A-level students were allocated numbers used in all data collection so UAS students remained blinded to the pupils’ identities. Using these numbers and an on-line questionnaire, data was gathered on average hours of sleep, history of recent and regular exercise, extracurricular activity and alcohol consumption as well as the student’s subjective assessment of their academic ability/confidence, personal motivation and contentment with body image. In a separate laboratory session, blood pressure, heart rate, body mass index, forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume in one second were measured. Our measure of cardiovascular fitness (fitness) was recovery of heart rate over a one minute period immediately after intense exercise. Pupils’ academic grades (expressed as a score) were provided by the school, with pupils identified only by their allocated number. Fitness was positively correlated with volunteered weekly hours of physical activity. Grades and weekly hours of physical activity were positively correlated for males (Pearson; p<0.05; R 0.73, R2 0.53), but negatively correlated for females (Pearson; p<0.05; R -0.43, R2 0.19). Interestingly, there was a difference in response of males and females to the questionnaire statement, ‘I exercise to loose weight’, with the median response being 6 for females and 0 for males (10 = agree completely) (Mann Whitney U; p<0.001). The negative correlation for the questionnaire response of females that they are ‘on top of their school work’ and fitness (Pearson; p<0.05, R-0.45), suggests that for females exercise is linked to body image. These data do not support a universal view that physical exercise and fitness correlate positively with academic achievement.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements