If You Want Physically Active Kids, You Need To Be A Physically Active Parent

by Clint Edwards
active kids

According to a recent Vanderbilt University study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, preschool-age children are more likely to be physically active if parents increase their own activity. Ultimately, they asked parents and children to wear movement monitors for 12 hours at a time and monitored if there was a correlation between parents’ movements and the movements of their young children.

Researchers found a strong link between parent and child sedentary behavior and mild physical activity. They also found that up to 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by a parent correlated with their preschool-age child’s level of physical activity.

The authors of the study had this to say about the findings: “”The good news is that increasing physical activity is not only good for parents’ health, it also helps set these behaviors in their young children as well. It’s doubly good for family health. Setting this habit early could impact good health not only in childhood but in adulthood as well.”

For some parents, this idea might be a “well…duh” moment. For others, it might be another horrible nagging reminder that you need to get off the sofa. Either way, these are real facts. However, those of you who would rather stay down, I will leave it up to you to find your own “alternative facts.”

Ultimately, every minute that a parent spent in sedentary behavior, the child’s sedentary behavior increased by 0.10 minutes. Similarly, for every minute a parent engaged in light physical activity, the child’s light physical activity increased by 0.06 minutes. Increasing parental physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior correlated with increased physical activity behaviors in children, the researchers concluded.

This research was conducted on preschool-age children, and I think anyone with a preschooler shouldn’t be surprised to find out that the more you walk around, the more your child follows you. They follow you to the store. They follow you to the fridge. They follow you into your bedroom while you are trying to get dressed, or do laundry, or get them to stop following you. They follow you to the restroom and insist on helping you with your business. In fact, preschoolers really know nothing about boundaries, and out of sight, out of mind is not something they subscribe to. So yeah, scientists, thanks for the pointing out the obvious.

But ultimately, the fact to take away from this is that the more parents move, the more our children move, and that can, without a doubt, be beneficial for both parents and children.

Physical activity is an important factor in preventing childhood obesity and promoting overall cardiovascular health. But honestly, as a working parent, I will be the first to admit that it can be difficult to get your ass up once it’s down. I’ve been married for 12 years. I’m in my mid 30s, and I have three kids. Right now, at this stage in my life, my idea of a vacation would be to have the house and TV to myself, along with a pizza.

Raising children is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. It’s not like any of us are sleeping well. We are behind on everything, and our to-do list keeps growing. Now doctors are telling us to walk around more.

I should admit, though, while I do relate to all the couch potatoes out there, I do consider myself a pretty active guy. I go to the gym regularly, and in the summer, I enjoy distance cycling. It’s not uncommon for me to spend a Saturday riding my bike. But rarely do I do any of this in front of my young children, and to be honest, once I’m home my primary goal is to get as much ass-on-couch time as possible. Not that I don’t share the housekeeping load with my wife. I do. I just don’t see my movements around the house as exercise. I see them as trying to get things cleaned up so we can get everyone to bed.

But this study made me look at things a little differently. I’ve always seen working out as something I did for myself. But clearly being active is something I need to view more as a family activity.

But this is one of the more difficult realities of raising kids. Nothing is really about you anymore. Everything is about your children. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take time to care for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve a moment or two alone with your favorite pizza toppings (when the stars align and something like that happens). But what it does mean is that your children are watching what you do. They are picking up your habits, and if you want your children to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle, you have to be their guide.