The Importance of Becoming Active Early in Life

The British Medical Journal published a story that mothers who are active during pregnancy and early in their child's life are more likely to raise active children. It seems self-evident but often researchers do find important insights by studying the obvious.

The level of activity of children is important, as some risk factors for adult diseases have been associated with lower levels of activity in children. Other associations have also been found between early life factors, up to age five, and childhood obesity. To find out more about the early life influences on children's level of physical activity, researchers observed children aged 11 to 12 who were taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Each child wore an accelerometer for seven days, which recorded the intensity and frequency of physical activity by the minute. Data was collected from over 5,000 children, who were observed for at least 10 hours during 3 days, and were analyzed according to various factors hypothesized to affect physical activity.

The findings were then correlated to other data that was collected. Researchers looked for associations between early activity with later physical activity, the mother's level of activity during pregnancy, season of birth, one or both parents' physical activity when the child was aged 21 months, and having an older sibling.  The correlation between a parent’s physical activity and a child’s were strong, but the authors of the research were clear that they were not pointing to any biological factor. Rather it indicated that mothers who are physically active during pregnancy are more likely to remain active after pregnancy, which can influence a child's level of physical activity.

The authors' say that, "We have shown that early life factors have limited influence on later physical activity in 11 to 12 year olds, but that children are slightly more active if their parents are active early in the child's life". The authors believe that helping parents increase their level of physical activity may promote children's activity and curb childhood obesity trends.

The American Heart Organization is also interested in getting our children to stay active. Here is a list of suggestions on how to keep the whole family moving:

· The old adage of "turn off the TV" now extends to computers, game boxes, IPads, and the host of other electronic gadgets that distract us from physical activity. 

· Make family time physical – go hiking, bicycling, skiing, swimming, etc.

· Do your children have household chores? Make them physical – as long as it is keeping with their physical and emotional maturity.   Mowing lawns, raking leaves, scrubbing floors and taking out the garbage. 

· Observe your children and direct them to sports that they respond to. Some kids like team sports, others like individual sports. Almost all kids will like some kind of sport. The key is to make the effort to find the one that is right for them. 

· Look for opportunities to walk or bike when safe> Not every trip requires packing everyone into the family car. Don’t make the car an automatic option. 

· Learn what’s going on at school or daycare when it comes to physical activity or gym. Bringing an interest in your child’s physical edcaution to teacher conferences or PTA meetings. It can make a difference at the school

· Make sure your kids get some physical activity after school and before homework or TV. It’s the perfect moment to do it. Physcally the kids are ready to play anyway.

· Giving gifts? Birthdays. Holidays. Choose fitness-oriented gifts -- a jump rope, mini-trampoline, tennis racket, baseball bat, a youth membership at the local YMCA or YWCA.  Select the gift with your child's skills and interests in mind.

· Look around the neighborhood. Does the community offer programs -- from little league to kid marathons?  Even bird watching at the local park can make a difference. 

· Let your infant roam free –under your watchful eye. Playpens are more for our convenience than your child’s physcal health. Giving a infant the chance to move freely can set up lifetime of a natural love of physcal activity. 

· Do your children ever say that they are bored? Don’t just have them turn on the TV. Suggest something that gets them moving, like playing catch or building a snowman in the yard.

 


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