Families, physical activity and fun
Parents know that physical activity is beneficial to the health of their children: it positively affects physical health, cognition, and brain function. Physical activity also supports mental health, improves self-esteem, contributes to social development, and enhances overall well-being.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that physical activity ranks close to homework in terms of importance and priority. Yet only 39 per cent of children aged 5 and up are getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Clearly, despite the best of intentions to support physical activity, the majority of parents struggle with how to make this happen.
One commonly overlooked type of parental support for physical activity is parent-child co-activity. Co-activity is when parents facilitate opportunities for their children to be active by being active with their kids. Co-activity is especially relevant for young children and often starts as active play. As children grow and develop and preferences in activities change, co-activities can evolve to family walks, hikes, or bike rides (among many others). Not only does this form of support model an active lifestyle, it facilitates healthy family dynamics through quality time. It also gets parents moving! In spite of these appealing benefits, adopting co-activity is easier said than done.
For some parents, the idea of participating in co-activity can seem daunting. How does one find activities they can do with their child? How does one find the time or energy? What about bad weather? These reasons were cited as major barriers in a national survey on parent-child co-activity.
Rest assured, research in the field of physical activity promotion can provide some clues. For the best chances of success, consider activities that are close to home and fun for you and your child. By focusing on co-activities that are simple to carry out and are genuinely enjoyable, you are more likely to follow through.
Co-activity does not need to be time-consuming or complicated. It can be as simple as a walk or bike around the block after school. Maybe it looks like an impromptu dance party on a rainy afternoon. Perhaps you engage at the playground rather than watch from the sidelines. It can even be an active game or obstacle course after dinner. Despite parents being some of the busiest people around, if you start looking for opportunities, there are small ways to get active together, even just for a few minutes!
With spring right around the corner, this time of year provides the perfect opportunity to get active together. If parent-child co-activity sounds like something you would like to embrace, consider trying the following evidence-based strategies:
1. Think about some activities you and your child already enjoy doing together and brainstorm some new activities you might like to try. Focusing on activities that are fun for everyone involved will increase your chances of success. 2. Be sure to jot down your ideas and ensure you have everything you need to do these activities on the fly. Doing some preparatory legwork beforehand will help make co-activity an easy option in the moment. 3. Set a specific, short-term goal for co-activity that is measurable and meaningful for your family. A goal that is aligned with your values will get you started, motivate you, and keep you working towards an aim. 4. Decide when and where you will carry out the activities and add it to your calendar. This type of planning is one of the most effective strategies to facilitate follow-through. 5. Start thinking about yourselves as an “active family.” By embracing an active family identity, you will be more likely to choose co-activity over the couch. 6. Tag co-activities on to your existing routine to facilitate habit formation. Engaging in co-activities at the same time in the week will build a routine that can be initiated without too much thought or effort.
Families can get discouraged when they don’t immediately succeed in incorporating copious amounts of co-activity. It is important to remember that co-activity, or any physical activity for that matter, does not need to be all-or-nothing. It is likely you and your child are already active together in many ways and every minute you can add to what you are already doing can make a difference to health and well-being.