Parents who are physically active are more likely to have children who are physically active, but a new Cambridge-led study is the first to indicate a direct link between the activity level of a mother and that of her child.
The study analyzed the physical activity levels of 554 mothers and pre-schoolers, using activity monitors that were attached to participants and worn continuously to ensure accurate data. The mothers and children were monitored all day for up to seven days.
Research found that how active the mother was each day was closely linked to the activity level of the child. Yet the activity level of the mothers overall was quite low, with only 53% of mothers performing at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least once a week.
The study shows that children aren't "just naturally active" and take cues from their parents in regards to physical activity and other measures that make up a healthy lifestyle.
"We saw a direct, positive association between physical activity in children and their mothers -- the more activity a mother did, the more active her child. Although it is not possible to tell from this study whether active children were making their mothers run around after them, it is likely that activity in one of the pair influences activity in the other," said study leader Kathryn Hesketh (formerly of Cambridge and now UCL).
"For every minute of moderate-to-vigorous activity a mother engaged in, her child was more likely to engage in 10% more of the same level of activity. If a mother was one hour less sedentary per day, her child may have spent 10 minutes less sedentary per day. Such small minute-by-minute differences may therefore represent a non-trivial amount of activity over the course of a week, month and year."
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.