Active Parents, Active Kids

BOB Sport Utility Stroller

As I sat behind my computer this morning, munching on a heavily iced biscuit and not quite working up sufficient motivation to start work yet, I came across a BBC online news article – ‘Active mums “have active children“‘. It turns out unsurprisingly yet again that getting out and active is a good thing for both parents and kids and that mothers have a bigger influence on activity levels than previously assumed.

Although normally pretty active, coming out of my new baby hibernation I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. Right now my idea of activity is walking to pick up the post from the front door and back in a pair of comfy tracksuit bottoms, screaming baby slumped over one shoulder,a baby vomited-on muslin on the other but with my six week check looming, my toddler clamouring to get outside in the spring sunshine and the excuses for slobbishness reducing every day perhaps the article has come at the right time to motivate me back into action.

The article, if you’ve not read it, is based on a research study of 554 mothers of 4 year old children who wore heart rate monitors and accelerometers on their chests for up to 7 days – the results of which have recently been published in ‘Pediatrics’ journal. It concluded that there was a direct relation between the amount of activity a mother undertook and that of her offspring and that therefore policies aimed at increasing activity in children would be better directed at their mothers.

The study failed to determine if the super-energetic children caused the increased activity in the mothers (as I practice my lunges whilst tidying up the Duplo for the tenth time I think they’ve missed a trick here…) or vice-versa but regardless, it was found that a mother who spent an extra hour active a day would result in her child being around ten minutes more active a day also – a small amount but which builds up over the course of weeks and months. The study also failed to address whether more active dads have the same impact on their childrens’ activity levels – presumably to avoid adding in too many other factors. It did make me curious though.

The benefits of exercise and activity for both parents and children have long been documented as I explored when researching the benefits of walking for a previous Baby Routes article – Hiking to Health: the physical and mental health benefits of walking.  From improved mental health, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and increasing happiness in adults to reduced risk of childhood obesity, diabetes and even improved school grades for kids, exercise is key to healthier, happier lives all round if you trust what the scientists say.

Now though it seems we have no excuse as parents to sit back and hope for a ‘sporty’ child. The study stated that children are sadly not ‘just naturally active’ but like with so many other aspects of their lives, are impressionable and deeply influenced by the behaviour of those key adult authority figures around them and it’s a case of ‘do as I do’ that matters, not ‘do as I say’.

It’s hardly a big surprise really or at least not to me. Roo has always been an outdoors child – whether stuffed in a sling out walking with me in the early days, pottering around the garden, playing in the park or  waiting on a grassy verge somewhere to cheer on her dad at a cycling event, she has grown used to being out in the fresh air. With parents who enjoy the outdoors, she has pretty much had to learn to like it – lumping it as a toddler isn’t really an option! As a result though, we now have a two and a half year old who goes a little crazy when housebound for too long and who can easily wile away an hour digging about in the vegetable bed or trailing sticks and leaves through puddles but who struggles to watch a DVD without losing concentration and instead commencing on an obstacle course of the sitting room. This is a real nuisance when she’s ill or it’s gale force winds outside but on the whole I’m hoping it will last well into her teenage years and beyond, when I hope to use it to my advantage and drag her up the odd mountain or two under the guise of a family holiday!

There are plenty more studies out there too which have emerged over the years to reenforce the importance of exercise and activity for both kids and parents. Back in 2012 a Dutch review of previous studies found a strong correlation between exercise in children and academic performance, thought to be due to exercise increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Somewhere I remember reading about a study linking children of dog owners to better health and reduced asthma rates – partly due to the fact they usually got involved with walking them. A 2010 study in Aberdeen also showed exercise helped children to improve their concentration and attention spans  and other studies have shown a link between good sleep and childhood exercise levels  – something I’m willing to attest to given how quickly and deeply our daughter zoncs out after a runaround in the local park or field in the late afternoon and I’m pretty certain there is no coincidence about the fact she started sleeping through the night during a family holiday which involved her swimming before  bed every evening for two weeks! With a tired, worn out child, it’s also no surprise parents feel saner too! The only thing I can’t find is a a study looking into the influence of watching parents being active on future activity levels of children though  e.g does a young child being pushed in a pushchair or carried in a sling whilst out walking later encourage them to be active because their parents are demonstrating being active or does that count as a sedentary activity?

Either way, today’s article is another wake-up call to get out and active again both for me, Roo and the baby. If I hadn’t already eaten it, I would put that biscuit back in the cupboard (probably). The six weeks of baby excuses are nearly up – it’s time to hit the trail again!

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