Have you ever heard the expression “monkey see, monkey do”? It refers to a person who imitates another person’s actions by simply watching them. What does this have to do with physical activity? Parents who perform physical activity can greatly influence their children’s physical activity levels. According to the 2014-2015 Canadian Health Measures Survey, only 12% of children (5 to 11 years) and 4% of youth (12 to 17 years) get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
Lack of physical activity is likely one of several factors linked to the increase in the percent of Canadian children aged 5 to 17 who are overweight or obese, 30% of children as of 2017. For this age group, physical activity has many benefits, including:
- improving cardiovascular fitness, building strong bones and muscles, and controlling weight
- decreasing the risk of developing health conditions, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
- reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression and improving grades in school
How can you, a parent or guardian, be a physical activity role model?
Be active together. Bring your family together and connect by going for walks after dinner on weekdays, going swimming on weekends or learning a new activity/sport together, such as tennis. New research shows that for every 20-minute increase in a parent’s physical activity level, their child’s physical activity level increases by 5 to 10 minutes.
Sit less together. Just like physical activity, there is a link between parent and child sedentary behaviour. For each additional hour of sedentary behaviour by a parent, like watching TV or playing video games, there was an 8 to 15 minute increase in the sedentary time of a child. Break up sitting time by standing during TV commercials or decrease it by being active together.
Enroll your child in activities/sports and praise them for their effort. Enrolling a child in lessons or league or team sports increases their physical activity by 5 to 15 minutes a day regardless of the parent’s physical activity level. Parents or guardians, fit in your own physical activity while watching your child’s practices or games, such as walk around the field while your child practices soccer.
Demonstrate and encourage active transportation. Active transportation refers to any form of human-powered transportation. There are many ways to engage in it, such as cycling or walking to your child’s school together instead of dropping them off by car or, if you are strapped for time, parking farther from the school and getting in a short walk. You could also combine active transportation with public transportation by taking the bus with your child and getting off one or two stops early, which not only improves both of your physical activity levels but teaches your child how to use public transportation.
Demonstrating good health habits by being physically active and encouraging your family to move more and sit less, are all signs of positive role modelling; You can do it!