New report confirms active lifestyles linked to student wellbeing

Issue: Volume 97, Number 13

Posted: 26 July 2018
Reference #: 1H9jj2

Sports play a vital role in students’ lives, according to an insights paper published by the OECD in early July.

Physical education classes and extracurricular sports activities compete for time with many other important pursuits, including homework and study.

Teachers and parents may ask whether their children spend enough time (or too much time) in physical activities, and to what degree participation in sports is associated with students’ academic performance and wellbeing.

How is participation in sports related to students’ performance and wellbeing? is the latest in the monthly PISA in Focus series. It draws on data collected from a large representative sample of 15-year-olds in each of 72 countries and territories, including New Zealand, as part of the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 research study. Over half a million adolescents took part in this study internationally.

Regular physical activity linked to improved wellbeing

The paper finds there is a clear positive association between physical activity and students’ sense of wellbeing. Students who participate in moderate physical activity that raises their heart rate and makes them sweat for at least 60 minutes per day (such as walking or riding a bike) tend to have better wellbeing than students who don’t participate in sports or physical activity at all.

Wellbeing outcomes linked to frequent moderate physical activity included greater sense of belonging at school, lower schoolwork-related anxiety, less bullying and lower risk of skipping school.

Moderate physical activity is also positively, albeit weakly, related to academic performance, with students who undertook moderate physical activity on six to seven days a week having statistically higher scores than their less active counterparts.

Students who engage in moderate physical activity more often during a week are more likely to value teamwork and cooperation. In most countries, students who exercise at least three days per week report greater life satisfaction than students who do not exercise outside of school.

Students who do not engage in any moderate physical activity rated their satisfaction with life as 6.9 on a scale from 0 (the worst possible life) to 10 (the best possible life) while students who exercise once or twice a week rated their life satisfaction as 7.2.

Students who exercise vigorously at least three days per week reported a life satisfaction level of 7.5 on the scale. However, this relationship should be interpreted with caution because students who did not report any physical activity may suffer from physical disabilities that prevent them from engaging in such activities.

Students who do not engage in any kind of physical activity outside of school – neither moderate nor vigorous physical activity – tended to fare poorly in several psychological and social outcomes, and were more likely to engage in risky behaviours.

On average across OECD countries, students who reported getting at least some moderate or vigorous physical activity are three percentage points less likely to feel anxious about schoolwork, seven percentage points less likely to feel like an outsider at school, three percentage points less likely to skip school frequently, and two percentage points less likely to be frequently bullied than students who do not engage in any form of physical activity outside of school.

Key takeaway

A key takeaway from this paper is that while participation in sports has only a weak relationship to higher marks in academic subjects, it is fairly strongly associated with higher wellbeing of teenagers, and the adults they will become. Educators and schools should therefore consider how they might promote more regular moderate physical activity inside and outside of school and how to strike a balance between physical activity and students’ wider studies. Link to the report: 

Other key findings:

  • Across OECD countries, slightly more than half (52 per cent) of students engage in vigorous physical activities for at least 20 minutes three times a week. The percentage for New Zealand students is the same as the OECD average.
  • In every country, including New Zealand, boys are more likely than girls to engage in vigorous physical activity.
  • In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific students were slightly more likely to engage in vigorous exercise than their non-Māori and non-Pacific counterparts, and students who identified as Asian were less likely than non-Asian students to take part in vigorous physical activity. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:23 am, 26 July 2018

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