How physical activity, fitness, and motor skills contribute to math performance : Working memory as a mediating factor
Syväoja, H. J., Kankaanpää, A., Hakonen, H., Inkinen, V., Kulmala, J., Joensuu, L., Räsänen, P., Hillman, C. H., & Tammelin, T. H. (2021). How physical activity, fitness, and motor skills contribute to math performance : Working memory as a mediating factor. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 31(12), 2310-2321. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.14049
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© Wiley, 2021
Purpose The purpose of this study was to examine whether physical activity, fitness and motor skills have indirect association with math performance via cognitive outcomes and if so, through which aspects of cognition? Methods This study comprised 311 6th–9th grade adolescents (12–17y [M age=14.0y], 59% girls) from seven schools throughout Finland in 2015. Math performance was measured via a teacher-rated math achievement and the Basic Arithmetic test. Cognitive functions were measured by broad cognitive test battery. Physical activity was assessed with a self-reported questionnaire and a hip-worn accelerometer. Aerobic fitness was estimated using a maximal 20-m shuttle run test, muscular fitness with curl-up and push-up tests, and motor skills with a 5-leaps test and a throwing-catching combination test. Structural equation modeling was applied to examine the associations. Results In both boys and girls, motor skills had a positive indirect association with math outcomes through visuospatial working memory. Among girls, muscular fitness had a positive indirect association with math outcomes through visuospatial working memory. Aerobic fitness was positively associated with math achievement, but the indirect path via cognition was not observed. Self-reported physical activity had a borderline indirect positive association with math outcomes through visuospatial working memory. Accelerometer-based physical activity did not correlate with math performance. Conclusion Motor skills and muscular fitness had indirect, positive associations with math performance, mediated by visuospatial working memory. The results give support to the viewpoints that the connections between motor skills, fitness and physical activity to academic skills are mediated via specific cognitive skills. ...
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- Liikuntatieteiden tiedekunta 
Additional information about fundingThis study was funded by the Academy of Finland (grant 273971) and the Finnish Ministry of Education 29 and Culture (OKM/92/626/2013, OKM/69/626/2014, OKM/50/626/2015)
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