Encouraging boys to become more physically active could be an effective means of improving their standards of literacy, according to new research.

Teaching Personnel reports that research conducted by the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with the University of Jyvaskyla and the UK’s University of Cambridge looked at the association between physical activity and sedentary time with reading and maths skills in 153 children aged six to eight years old in the first three years of primary school.

Physical activity and sedentary time were measured objectively using a combined heart rate and movement sensor in Year One, and reading and arithmetic skills were assessed by standardised tests in Years one to three.

The study showed that high levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity and low levels of sedentary time, particularly in combination, among year one boys led to better reading skills over time, with similar trends seen in mathematics skills.

The study’s hypothesis was not applicable to girls, the research showed. In girls, no strong or consistent associations could be seen between physical activity levels and either reading or arithmetic skills, suggesting this is a gender-specific issue. As such, it could be targeted as a means of addressing the persistent performance gap between boys and girls in schools and other academic settings.

Dr Eero Haapala, from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyvaskyla, said:

“Low levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity and high levels of sedentary time in grade one were related to better reading skills in grades one to three among boys. We also observed that boys who had a combination of low levels of physical activity and high levels of sedentary time had the poorest reading skills through grades one to three.”

Research in this area could lead to more schools developing programmes to encourage male students to get active in order to boost their academic attainment, as well as improving their physical and mental health and wellbeing.