Building Healthy Habits: Why Active Children Become Active Adults
If you’re a parent, your kids’ health is a top priority, and one of today’s major long-term health concerns is obesity. Americans’ waistlines have been expanding dramatically in recent decades — nearly 70 percent of American adults are now overweight or obese. But perhaps even more alarming are the statistics related to childhood obesity: Since 1980, obesity rates have more than doubled among two- to five-year-olds and tripled among six- to 19-year-olds.
The good news? A growing body of research shows that active children become healthy, active adults. Let’s examine some of the findings so you can better understand how to instill habits in your kids that will help keep them healthy for a lifetime.
An Early Start
One of the most enlightening studies performed on this topic is the 1970 British Cohort Study which followed 712 healthy, active, 25-year-old men beginning in the 1940s. More than 50 years later, the researchers revisited the subjects and examined their current state of health. The study found that the men who had been active as teenagers — particularly those who played varsity sports — spent less time at the doctor’s office later in life. Those who were athletic in youth were also more likely to remain active even into their late 70s.
Interestingly, the study initially intended to identify particular personality traits that led to being healthier and more active in later life — the discovery of the connection between physical activity earlier and later in life was a happy, helpful accident. But there was one personality trait that stood out: Subjects who saw themselves as adventurous tended to be more active later in life.
What Can You Do?
It’s clear that encouraging kids to be active early in life can help them stay lean and healthy later on. As a parent, how can you encourage your children to get out and move?
First, find an activity that they enjoy and will be able to maintain for years down the road. Cycling, hiking, and lower-impact sports such as tennis are accessible activities that can be scaled to your child’s interests and abilities, and they should be able to keep doing them as they get older. Try to foster a sense of adventure and excitement around physical activity.
Perhaps the most effective thing you can do to encourage physical activity in your child is to be active yourself. One study found that active mothers were much more likely to have active children — each hour that a mom stayed active translated to about 10 minutes of added activity for their kids.
Family activities are a perfect way to get everyone up, moving, and spending time together. Perhaps more importantly, bringing up active children and fostering healthy habits early on will give your kids a foundation that will support them for the rest of their lives.