My 11-year-old daughter recently asked if she could take a hot yoga class with me. My first reaction was negative: it's too hot, it's not "fun" and it's one of the few things I do that's truly mine — 90 minutes in which I don't have to worry about anyone else's needs.
Of course, I said yes. And I'm glad I did. She made it through class, and was totally into it (though she wished there'd been more "tricks" and less pose-holding).
"That was great, Mom," she said afterwards. "When's the next class?" And whether she becomes a yoga fan or not, I consider those 90 minutes to be a small gift: another way for me to show her how strong and able a body can be, and how good it feels. It doesn't much matter if it's yoga or running or swimming or playing ultimate frisbee — our kids are clearly taking their physical activity cues from us.
A new study out of the U.K. confirms this: researchers report that physical activity levels in mothers and their pre-school kids are directly associated. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that interventions to promote more physical activity among mothers (who, understandably, are often exhausted, harried and not great at fitting exercise into busy, kid-filled days) might also benefit their young children.
Here's some of NPR's report on the study of 554 mothers and their kids:
Mothers' increased physical activity boosted children's moderate and vigorous activity overall...
It's not entirely clear whether it's the mother's activity that influences her child's, or if mothers are more active because they're busy keeping up with a playful child, says Esther van Sluijs, a behavioral epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge and the study's lead author.
But busy mothers don't have to drop all other priorities to play with their children all day. Van Sluijs says just small changes – walking to the park instead of driving or playing a good game of tag instead of a board game – can make a difference.
"Increasing your physical activity just by a little bit already helps, you don't have to become an athlete." she says. "If you look at [small increases in activity] over a month or a year, that can actually have quite large benefits."
Fathers weren't part of the study, but van Sluijs says that doesn't mean the call for more exercise should single out mothers.
"We do recommend that interventions are not just targeted at mothers and their children," she tells Shots. "They're actually targeted at the family unit because we know that siblings as well play an important role for children's physical activity."