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Like mother, like child: How mom’s activity level influences the little ones

April 04, 2014

One of the many memories I have as a child is going to the gym with my mom, and while she worked out, I got to hang out in childcare. And boy, I did not like it! Knowing this, my mom would often let me sit on the couch in the entryway where she could keep an eye on me while I colored or read books. The gym my mom was a member of was extremely family-oriented and my parents had become friends with the owner – hence, the only way I was able to weasel my way out of childcare, opting for the cozy leather couch instead. Even though I hated being there at the time and was so bored, I realize looking back that by doing this, my mom was setting a positive example for me and what living a healthy lifestyle looks like. Fast-forward to today, and one of my biggest passions in life is health and fitness – and I credit those many (dreaded) trips to the gym to instilling this passion in me at such a young age.

Unfortunately for many moms, physical activity gets put on the back burner, as the family schedule is filled with cleaning, cooking dinners, driving kids to extracurricular activities, and for some moms, they squeeze in a full-time job in there somewhere. Talk about a lot on one’s plate! While most moms admit that they just can’t do it all and often neglect staying active as a result, studies show that this mentality has a negative impact on young kids. Some moms might argue that they are giving up time for themselves to better meet their kids’ needs, but it turns out, putting yourself first might not be as selfish as you thought.

The study

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics highlighted the important role that parents, especially moms, play in the development of healthy lifestyle behaviors in their young child. Throughout the course of seven days, the daily activities of 554 4-year-olds and their mothers were tracked using an activity monitor. The findings were two-fold.

First, the activity levels of mothers were recorded at a shocking low: only 53% of mothers engaged in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least once a week. Better than no activity though, right? Not even close. According to the CDC, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) a week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.

Secondly, it was found that there was a direct, positive relationship between the activity levels of mother and child. If the mother participated in more activity, the child was also more active, and vice versa. Of the many mothers that were monitored, many were working, and many of the children attended day-care facilities – factors that influenced activity levels and the association between them.

The lesson to be learned

Whether it is physical activity or something else, your kids are watching you. Parents are largely the most influential person in a child’s life, which is why it is so important to establish healthy lifestyle habits, not just for your own health, but for your child’s as well. Here are some ways to encourage healthy habits in your kids by setting a positive example:
  • Invest in a jogging stroller and go on a morning run with your child
  • When you take your child to the park, pre-plan an outdoor workout to complete while your child is playing
  • Limit screen time at home, and opt to play outside instead
  • Have your child participate in at-home workouts with you (with no weights of course!)
  • If you are headed to the gym without them, let your kids know where you are going and why it’s important for you to spend this time away from them
  • Teach the importance of a healthy diet by cooking balanced meals, filled with lots of fruits and veggies, lean protein, and whole grains. For more information on what a balanced plate looks like, visit myplate.gov.
  • When your child is old enough, invest in a few personal training sessions for him/her to help teach them proper form and technique as they start to incorporate strength training into their weekly routine.
Everyone has time to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine - it’s just a matter of realigning priorities. I know, easier said than done, right? The key is to start out small. Instead of sitting on the couch during the whole TV show, get up and get moving during the commercial by rotating between push-ups, sit-ups, squats, planks, etc. It’s amazing what a little bit of movement will do for your health (and your kid’s)!

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