Parents Who Move More Have Kids Who Move More

Parents are role models for kids. There’s no denying it. And if you’re sedentary and at risk for disease, your kids will be too. New research sheds light on the impact of active parents on their kids.

I can assume that if you’re reading Breaking Muscle you are an exercise enthusiast, but if you’re also a parent, it’s time to get off your butt, even when you’re at home, and set an example. A study this month in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reviewed the relationship between the activity of parents and their children. What they found wasn’t at all surprising. I’m sure you’ve guessed what the relationship is by now, but it needs to be said anyway: setting the pace with your kids makes a major difference.

It should go without saying that the fitness of your children is dependent in part on how active they are, but that’s not all. Study after study and article after article has demonstrated the positive health benefits of getting up and moving around. Heck, a recent article I wrote here indicated that for us office workers even just standing up every now and then might help save you from premature death. It’s not just adults that need to exercise for health, but kids do, too. In fact, the practice of movement is critical for their physical and mental development.

In the study the researchers hoped to put a number on what are called “shared risk factors.” A shared risk factor is when a disease-inducing trait that may not be genetic occurs in both a parent and child. Many of these factors are behavioral or environmental in origin. This means that parents who are lazy themselves, and create a living space and environment that isn’t conducive to physical activity, not only are more likely to become diseased as a result, but so are their kids – even without a genetic history of disease.

The researchers put pedometers on parents and their kids and measured the results. The kids ranged from 5 to 19 in age, and there was an even distribution of boys and girls. For every 1,000 steps or more per day a father took, his son’s increased by over 300 and his daughter’s increased by nearly 300. For every 1,000 steps more a mother took, her son experienced about the same increase as with the father, and her daughter took a little over 200 steps more. When either the father or mother took 3,000 more steps per day, there was a 1.9 to 2.5 times increase in the chance that the child would be in the upper two tertiles (the top 66%) of children for activity.

If you want your children to be healthy and active the message of this study is clear: You need to be an example. The more you move, the more your kids will move. The better the environment for exercise, the more your kids will move. And, finally, engaging with them directly and moving together will have the best impact of all. That last part wasn’t in the study, that was my own input, but it’s true. Exercise is better when we team up, especially with our kids.


1. Cora Craig, et. al., “Relationship between parent and child pedometer-determined physical activity: a sub-study of the CANPLAY surveillance study,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013,10:8

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