The Unhealthy Habit Kids Learn From Mom
Children’s physical activity level strongly related to how much exercise mom gets, and moms of young kids rarely get enough, finds a new study.
By Debbie Strong
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Want to make sure your children are active enough each day? Then mom, it may be time for you to get up and get moving.
A new study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, used activity monitors to track the activity levels of more than 500 mothers and pre-schoolers and found that the more active the mother was each day, the more active her child was. The U.K. study also suggests that overall, moms’ activity levels were quite low: Only 53 percent of moms involved engaged in 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least once a week.
Patterns of how and when moms and kids were active also emerged: Moderate-to-vigorous activity was more strongly associated with weekdays, and light activity, such as walking, was associated with Saturdays and Sundays. Many of those studied were working moms, with their children attending day-care facilities – meaning the moms and kids were actually less active on weekends, when they were most likely spending more time together.
Given that the health benefits of physical activity are well established, experts say the findings ought to encourage moms to get moving more regularly. “If activity in mothers and children can be encouraged or incorporated into daily activities, activity levels are likely to increase in both. In return, this is likely to have long-term health benefits for both," said Kathryn Hesketh, who led the study in collaboration with researchers at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton.
Though dads weren’t part of the study, the findings also suggest that, considering the strong link between mothers and young children, programs to encourage exercise and prevent childhood obesity should aim to include whole families and attempt to engage moms in particular.
Easy Ways to Get Moving on the Weekends
If you’re like many parents who are stuck in the rut of cramming errands, family obligations, and long car rides into their weekend time, a few small adjustments may be all you need to add more movement into the mix. “What we’re looking for is to set kids up for a lifetime habit of being physically active,” says Dr. Julie Maina, associate professor at Roanoke College who studies childhood obesity and children. Remember: Exercise also helps adults stay less stressed – and all that movement will help tire out your kid so he or she sleeps better at night. Get started in these small ways:
Break it up.Don’t get overwhelmed with the thought of yet another item on the to-do list, says Maina. “Break [activity] into segments, like 10 minutes here and there, which is just as effective as getting in 30 minutes a day.” A quick dance session when a favorite song comes on the radio, a race to see who can pick up their toys the fastest – it all equals active time, and every little bit adds up.
Take more steps.As soon as your kids are out of the baby carrier and old enough to walk on their own, make every short trip – to the post office, the local park, or a friend’s house – a walk instead of a quick drive.
Spend more time outside.Unless it’s below freezing or raining, even your little ones can be outside in any weather for at least a few minutes. Take a short stroll, play at the playground – do anything you can to move while soaking up the vitamin D.
Allow activity indoors.No need for a visit to the pricey kiddie gym at the mall – recreate the experience at home by designating one room of your home as a safe play area. Purchase inexpensive foam matting, soft blocks, and active games and toys, and use it for an area where kids can get out their energy (and mom and dad can play, too).
Limit TV and computer time. Encourage young kids to step away from these devices – and remember to lead by example!
Or at least make tech time active.Pop in a DVD or video game that encourages movement. Try a mommy and me yoga DVD, or check for children’s TV programming that may have games for you and your kids to follow.
Look for “mommy and me” activities on the weekends. Once you’ve gone through the motion of signing yourselves up and paying for a class or activity for you and your child, you’re much more likely to go. Check for parent-and-tot swim classes or workout groups – or sign your little one up for pee-wee soccer and spend game times running up and down the sidelines, cheering him or her on. “Take advantage of your local parks and recreation department or YMCA programs,” adds Maina.
Create your own games.Preschool-age children will love any fun activity you come up with, no matter how silly. For instance, act like animals (hop like a bunny, stretch tall like a giraffe) and take turns guessing each other’s imitations, or start a dance party to your kids’ favorite music group while you all clean the kitchen after dinner.
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