Associations between Physical Activity Behaviours and Learning Outcomes in Students Attending Vocational Education and Training.

  • Gemma Groenewoudt

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Background: Physical activity (PA) declines by an estimated 7% per year through adolescence (Dumith, Gigante, Domingues, & Kohl, 2011) and there is a concurrent increase in sedentary behaviour (SB) with a mean increase of 90 minutes per day sitting from early to middle adolescence (10-16 years old; Mitchell et al., 2012). Similar worrying trends are being reported in the Netherlands where students attending vocational education and training (VET) spend up to 700 hours a year in classrooms (Rijksoverheid, n.d.) and their activity levels are relatively low (Rijpstra & Bernaards, 2011). This may have an effect on school performance and executive functioning, as shown in studies on children (Crova et al., 2014; Singh et al., 2018). Hardly any research has been done on this subject among VET students, an age category of which it is known that the brain is still developing. Aim: This study is part of the PHIT2LEARN research project and the aim was to investigate what the association is between physical activity behaviours and learning outcomes in students attending VET. Participants, procedure and design: An observational cross-sectional study was designed, in which 29 Dutch VET students (≈ 16-18 years old; in the first or second year of a level 2 curriculum) participated. Measures: Physical activity behaviours were measured at baseline with an accelerometer (ActivPAL3) objectively measuring sedentary behaviour, light physical activity, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and sit-stand transitions for 24 hours a day during one week. Learning outcomes were operationalized as school performance (SP) (tested by an AMN Mathematics Test) and executive functioning (EF) (tested by the Trail Making Test, Digit Span Backward test, and Colour-Shape Task). Data were analysed with (bivariate) correlation analyses and multiple regression analyses using SPSS (version 24). Results: No significant associations between any of the PAB measures and any of the SP were found, even after correcting for sex and BMI. Also, no significant associations between any of the PAB measures and any of the EF measures were found, even after correcting for sex and BMI. Conclusion: In summary, VET schools should not bet everything on physical activity, because the evidence of an association between physical activity behaviours and learning outcomes in VET students is not yet sufficient. However, VET students are the employees of the future who will need to be educated towards vital citizenship (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, 2019). Creating awareness about the risks of sedentary behaviour and the opportunities for physical activity should start early.
Date of Award26 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRenate de Groot (Supervisor)


  • sedentary behaviour
  • (light and moderate-to-vigorous) physical activity
  • sit-stand transitions
  • physical activity behaviours
  • learning outcomes
  • school performance
  • executive functioning
  • students
  • adolescence
  • vocational education and training (VET)

Master's Degree

  • Master Onderwijswetenschappen

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