A new study suggests that, when it comes to levels of physical activity, it is mothers who help (or not) establish their offspring’s outlook on getting active.

The results from ‘Activity Levels in Mothers and Their Preschool Children’ suggests that, given the link between mothers and young children, policies to improve children’s health should be directed to whole families and look to encourage mothers more, in particular.

An analysis of the physical activity levels of more than 500 mothers and children, found that the amount of activity that a mother and her child did each day was closely related. The study found that maternal activity levels were very low: only 53% of mothers engaged in 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least once a week (the recommendation is 150 minutes a week).

The study shows that young children are not ‘just naturally active’ and that parents have an important role to play in the development of healthy activity habits early on in life. The findings suggest that all family members can benefit from such efforts.

The direct positive association between mothers and their four-year-old children was apparent for overall daily activity levels and activity segmented over the day (morning, afternoon and evening). This finding suggests that mothers and their children are active concurrently. However, there has also been recent studies that have shown that teaching your child that being active on a daily basis has proven to make a positive impact on the quantity of exercise they do in their daily lives.

Even though the benefits of doing sports and exercise have been highly publicised in recent years, activity levels continue to decrease through childhood and into adulthood. This decline extends into the childbearing years. New parents tend to be less active than their friends without children and less likely to do the 150 minutes of exercise per week.

Once women become mothers their activity levels frequently fail to return to pre-parenthood levels and their relative lack of activity may influence that of their small children. There are many competing priorities for new parents and making time to be active may not always be top of the list. However, small increases in maternal activity levels may lead to benefits for mothers and children. And if activity in mothers and children can be encouraged or incorporated into daily activities, so that more time is spent moving, activity levels are likely to increase in both. In return, this is likely to have long-term health benefits for both.


Findings were taken from the publication:
‘Activity Levels in Mothers and Their Preschool Children’

Kathryn R. Hesketh, Laura Goodfellow, Ulf Ekelund, Alison M. McMinn, Keith M. Godfrey, Hazel M. Inskip, Cyrus Cooper,Nicholas C. Harvey, Esther M.F. van Sluijs