Over the last few decades, we have seen childhood physical activity levels decline across the globe (Ng, 2014). With this has come an increased incidence of childhood obesity. There is also an associated increase in childhood cardiovascular disease and mental illness and severe declines in cardiorespiratory fitness.
In short, it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs.
Which is why it is essential that we make increasing childhood activity level a key priority. As you would expect, parents have a very important role in making this change and ensuring it happens.
What are the exercise recommendations for children?
To gain a bit of insight into how bad it has truly gotten, it is first necessary to outline how much physical activity children should be getting daily – and to be completely honest, the answer will probably shock you.
While there are some very slight variations between the exercise recommendations made by different countries, they all have one very common theme.
Children should get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per day.
One hour. Per day. As an absolute minimum.
If we delve into this a little further, a large portion of that physical activity should be performed at a very high intensity, and it should also include some form of exercise that promotes the strengthening of muscle and bone (such as jumping and bounding).
Now for the bad news.
Currently, only one-fifth of children are thought to achieve those recommendations per day (Hallal, 2012).
Just to clarify it, that’s a mere 20%.
Furthermore, recent research has demonstrated quite clearly that school-based exercise interventions will only have a very small effect when it comes to increasing the overall activity levels of children (Metcalf, 2012).
And when I say small, I mean small – as in a mere four more minutes of activity per day.
Related Article: Study Shows Active Children Are Better At Math
What is the parent’s role in promoting exercise for children?
The above information would suggest that increasing the activity levels of children is really the primary role of their parent. While there are certainly some outside influences, there is a growing body of evidence supporting this as fact.
Parents essentially act as gatekeepers to the physical activity that their children choose to undertake, and therefore play an important role in increasing the physical activity levels of their child.
For example, parents have the immediate ability to influence their child’s exercise levels by simply choosing to be active with their child, choosing to role model positive exercise behavior, and of course, by facilitating physical activity for their child in more of a support role (O’Connor, 2009).
Within this, there is also a strong correlation between the activity levels of parents and the activity levels of their children. Parents who exercise more frequently also having children who tend to exercise more frequently (Cleland, 2005).
This suggests that by simply participating in an exercise, a parent has the capacity to increase the activity levels of their children.
Pretty cool stuff!
However, if parents choose to partake in more sedentary behavior, then their children are going to be more likely to do the same.
There is research clearly demonstrating an extremely strong association between the hours of TV that are watched by parents, and the hours of TV that are watched by their children (Jago, 2010).
If we consider that increases in sedentary time have been shown to contribute to a reduction in childhood fitness and increases in fat mass, there is a reason to believe that this may also increase the difficulty for the child to exercise by reducing its enjoyment – thus having a cascading effect on activity levels.
This tells us that as a parent, the activity you choose to perform will have a direct impact on the types of activity your child undertakes.
Is there a difference between mother and father influences on exercise?
Interestingly, there is some older research looking at the gender of the parent. Whoever takes the lead in supporting the physical activity of their child may have an important influence on that child’s activity levels.
However, recent research shows that this is no longer the case.
In more traditional settings, mothers were thought to play a larger role in the logistical planning of children’s physical activity. Fathers were more likely to model physical activity. This has changed somewhat over the last few decades.
With the change in traditional gender roles that we have experienced on a societal level, recent evidence suggests that to best increase your child’s activity levels, parents need to be playing both roles simultaneously (Solomon-Moore, 2018).
This means that children are more active when parents share the responsibility of supporting their child’s activity equally, and both role model activity, while also assisting in its logistical planning.
How do you get your child to exercise?
So, this is arguably the crux of it all – what can you do as a parent to increase your child’s activity levels?
We now know that parents play an integral role when it comes to increasing the activity levels of their children, and subsequently, we need to make sure that they go about this in an optimal manner to ensure the best possible results.
Using the above information, it seems to me that parents can optimally increase the activity of their children in three key ways:
- Choose to perform in active play with their children
- Role model a healthy physical activity routine for their children
- Facilitate their children’s activity with other children
In my mind, this means that parents should encourage active play with their children every single day. This might mean going for a walk, playing a game of tag, or simply throwing the football in the backyard.
They should also perform an exercise for their own benefit to ensure they act as a positive exercise-focused role model. This might mean going to the gym a couple of time per week. Another option is jogging every couple of days.
Finally, they should also try and get their child to perform some form of organized sport, and then facilitate that sport as much as possible.
It also appears that the effectiveness of these methods will be enhanced if the parents actively limit their own screen time.
Simple and effective!
Related Article: The Effect Of HIIT On Children’s Motor Skills
What exercises parents can do with their child?
I have alluded to this a little bit above, but I do think that it needs addressing in a little more detail.
I think one of the most important things to do when considering what exercises you should do with your children is to keep it is as simple as possible. It doesn’t have to be highly structured, and it certainly doesn’t have to be formal.
This means fun games like tag and all-over red rover are great options for after-school play. Additionally, as are shooting hoops and throwing the football are also beneficial.
These activities encourage physical activity at a vigorous intensity, which has obvious health benefits. As a bonus, they also include movements that have high impact forces. This includes activities such as jumping and landing. They are extremely beneficial for bone and muscle health. Any games that require rapid changes of direction, throwing, and catching (such as dodgeball, for example) are also great choices. They have the ability to develop agility and hand-eye coordination. This comes in handy across the entire lifespan.
And if all else fails, go for a walk!
This will provide the perfect way to make exercise routine, while also allowing more opportunity to spend quality time with your child – which is never a bad thing.
So, don’t over complicate it.
Make it fun and keep it simple, and you will have a recipe for success.
Take Home Message
As a parent, you have an important role in keeping your children active – no matter what your gender. This means undertaking activity regularly with your child, being a good role model, and of course, encourage some form of sport or formal activity.
Along with this, trying to limit your own screen time. It is a great way to reduce the screen time of your children, which will encourage further activity.
And most importantly – keep it fun!
Ng, Marie, et al. “Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013. A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.” The lancet 384.9945 (2014): 766-781.
Hallal, Pedro C., et al. “Global physical activity levels: surveillance progress, pitfalls, and prospects.” The lancet 380.9838 (2012): 247-257.
O’Connor, Teresia M., Russell Jago, and Tom Baranowski. “Engaging parents to increase youth physical activity: a systematic review.”. American journal of preventive medicine 37.2 (2009): 141-149.
Cleland, Verity, et al. “Parental exercise is associated with Australian children’s extracurricular sports participation and cardiorespiratory fitness. A cross-sectional study.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2.1 (2005): 3.
Jago, Russell, et al. “Parent and child physical activity and sedentary time: do active parents foster active children?.” BMC public health 10.1 (2010): 194.