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Physical activity and its effects on children’s education

Vasilopoulos & Ellefson
Published: 19 May 2021


This research explores the association between physical activity and self-regulation and the relationship that this may have on academic achievements. It uses secondary data on primary and secondary school children from the Millennium Cohort Study, a cohort of infants born in 2000–2001 in the United Kingdom. The research found that there is a positive link between physical activity and emotional regulation both concurrently and longitudinally, when the children were 7-years old, 11-years old and 14-years old. When looking at socioeconomic status, the relationship for emotional regulation was negative while behavioural regulation was negligible. Additionally, when physical activity positively predicted academic achievements through emotional regulation for 7-year olds and behavioural regulation for 11-year olds. This was increased when the subjects socioeconomic status was controlled. These findings provide evidence that emotional regulation is linked to physical activity in early childhood. Following that, emotion regulation is shown to predict academic attainment, which suggests that early attention should be focussed on attention rather than behaviour.

Key Findings

Physical activity positively and significantly predicts emotional regulation at ages 7, 11 and 14 years. Whilst, there was a significantly negative correlation between physical activity and behaviour problems at ages 7 and 11, and no statistic significance at 14 years. Both closed and open-skilled sports and games which use balls predicted both emotional and behavioural regulation, but other sports were not significant. Physical activity was shown to indirectly have an significant positive effect on academic achievement through emotional regulation at 7-year old and behavioural regulation at 11-year old.


The data for this research came from the Millennium Cohort Study (a longitudinal study of children born during 2000–2001 in the United Kingdom. Physical activity data was first recorded in 2008, which this research uses as a starting point. Only children in England were included in this research. Both emotional and behavioural regulation were measured at the same time, age 7, 11 and 14 using a combination of parent-teacher reports using a subset of items from the Child Social Behaviour Questionnaire (CSBQ) and the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Physical activity was measure at age 7 and 14 using accelerometers. At age 7, the accelerometer was worn in the right hip for 7 days, whilst at age 14 it was worn on the non-dominant wrist for 24-hours for one day during the week and one at the weekend.


This research has shown that there is a positive relationship between physical activity and emotional (not behavioural) regulation simultaneously and longitudinally at all ages used in this research, 7, 11 and 14-years old. This relationship was negative for emotional regulation and negligible for behavioural regulation when controlling for social economic status. For ages 7 and 11-years old, physical activity positively predicted academic performance through emotional regulation for 7-year olds and behavioural regulation for 11-year olds. This relationship was more intense when social economic status was controlled.

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