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Do Young Kids Pose a Barrier to Physically Activity?

Continuing the theme of mediators and barriers to physical activity, I’d like to draw my readers attention to an interesting paper by Kristi Adamo and colleagues from the University of Ottawa, just published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Adamo and colleagues examined the association of having dependent children of different ages in the home on two measures of parental physical activity: daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and likelihood of meeting the guideline of 150 minutes of MVPA per week accumulated in 10-minute bouts.

They analysed data from the 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey (n=2315), in which MVPA was measured directly using accelerometry. All models were adjusted for parental age, marital status, household income, employment, and BMI.

It turns out (not surprisingly perhaps) that mothers whose youngest child was younger than 6 years and fathers whose youngest was aged 6-11 years engaged in fewer minutes of daily MVPA than those without dependent children (by about 50 mins less per week, respectively).

Both moms and dads were about 70% less likely to meet the minimum levels of MVPA recommended in guidelines (150 minutes per week, in bouts of ≥10 minutes), if their youngest child in the home was aged <6 years. Thus, parents of young children are missing out on approximately one third of their weekly MVPA needs.

It appears therefore that having young kids at home may pose a significant barrier to accumulating enough MVPA for parents.

As the authors conclude,

“Given the many physiologic, psychological, and social benefits of healthy active living, research efforts should continue to focus on strategies to encourage parents with young children to establish or re-engage in a physically active lifestyle, not only for their own health but to model healthy behavior for the next generation.”

I’d certainly love to hear from my readers about how having young kids has impacted their physical activity levels or how they have perhaps been able to avoid this impact.

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ResearchBlogging.orgAdamo KB, Langlois KA, Brett KE, & Colley RC (2012). Young children and parental physical activity levels: findings from the canadian health measures survey. American journal of preventive medicine, 43 (2), 168-75 PMID: 22813681



  1. Good article! And I can see where it brings up a valid point! However, like anything in life, you need to take time to be physically active and if it’s difficult with young children, then include them in your routine! I have 2 children under the age of three and by no means, can I say I am physically fit! I do, however, make the time to power walk outside for 45 minutes every morning before te kids are awake. And my husband wakes up even earlier to do his morning exercises (p90x, insanity, or yoga videos which he just does in our basement with a friend). We sacrifice sleep, but that morning boost makes up for it by giving us the energy to get thru the day! And then, in the evenings, weather permitting, we take our kids for a walk and gather some friends on the way to make it fun and social for everyone. If nothing else, a visit to the park or the local swimming pool once every couple days! Summers are definitely easier to plan ways to be active! And, from what we hear, it’s easier now while the kids are young because soon we will get busy in their organized activities and have less time for ourselves!

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  2. I have a almost 3 year old and am a working single parent; time crunched if anyone is! Yet, I have found I spend more time outside being active than before I had my daughter. I am one of those people that really do not like activity and although weight was not a problem was not active at all before my daughter. Now I spend usually 40min -1 hour after work before supper with her outside because she wants to run and play after I pick her up from daycare and it’s hard to say ‘no’.

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  3. I now have grown children (and glad of it) but when they were little for 15 years I got up at 5:45 am three weekdays each week and 7:30 both Sat and Sun to meet my two girlfriends for an hour’s run no matter what the weather. Our cutoff was below -21C. I reasoned that no one could bother me at that time of day – it was mine to do with as I wished. My husband was home asleep and if a child woke up he was there. I could not have done that if I didn’t have someone like a husband or other care giver at home. (I can’t say I ever liked getting up to exercise that early but having my girlfriends to meet made it okay and we also got to talk which is so good for getting things off your chest and coping with whatever “stuff” was going on (and there was/is always stuff).

    I also had one or two nights a week where I would go play volleyball with a group of ladies and go to the gym for a fitness class. I would also put the kids in the daycare at the gym and take a class. That would not work well without enough income to afford those extra costs (and I appreciate I was lucky) but we didn’t go out to dinner or movies or on expensive holidays – we lived daily as best we could to keep physically and mentally healthy. As soon as our kids were old enought they played community sports and they learned the importance of being active through developing a love for both the social and physical aspects of it from a very early age.

    I also did active things with my kids. When we went to the swimming pools and the playgrounds we would walk or ride bikes there. I played tag and chase games with them and would stand and push them on the swings. I was a stay at home mom – we have a bigger mortgage today than we did before kids but that is the price we were willing to pay in today’s society to have a healthy relaxed family unit.

    All my kids are active today. My husband is 63 and he works out daily. I still run but at a civilized time. If supper is late because I needed a run or a workout or dad was still working out in the basement after work – everyone respected that time as being as important as any other work work or housework that needed doing every day.

    Keeping your fitness while raising young children is definitelychallenging and you have to adjust your schedule, make personal sacrifices and compromises. But it is so worth it to be 50 something and still fit, healthy with a respectable physical shape that I am proud to have maintained.

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  4. Have to say my first gut reaction to the headline was, “Well, DUH!” 😉

    But what if you simply choose a different priority than exercise? Past National Poet Laureate Ted Kooser during his career in insurance spent 4:30-7 every morning writing poetry rather than exercising. (To be truthful, I don’t know if he spent his evenings exercising, but I know he put in those hours in the morning.)

    Or have medical issues that make shortened sleep to work in exercise a real problem? Don’t sleep deprive someone with bipolar, for example. Gets ugly in a hurry. Or a child with special needs?

    Or are a single mother who has to work two jobs just to keep the kids fed? They’ll suffer sooner unfed than unfit.

    I think it’s great if you choose fitness as a priority and can make it work for you. I appreciate particularly, Kerri, that you recognize the advantages you had and and that you shared your experience rather than offering advice. Too often these discussions degenerate into finger-wagging at folks who do not make the time to exercise without first recognizing that they may have their own barriers to surmount or simply have different priorities for themselves.

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