HOUSTON — Maintaining a regular exercise schedule can be a tough task for anyone, but parents juggling multiple small children have a particularly hard time keeping up with their personal fitness, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Houston report adults raising multiple kids generally engage in around 50 to 80 fewer minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.
All in all, researchers say that in comparison to other adults with fewer or no children, those with at least two young children participate in significantly less exercise. These findings hold major implications for adults aspiring to be more physically active but struggle to find enough time due to their parenting responsibilities.
These conclusions are based on an analysis of data provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) spanning 2007 to 2016 and encompassing 2,034 adults between the ages of 22 and 65.
Study authors set out to assess the association connecting moderate and vigorous physical activity habits with the number and age of children in a given household. This approach led to a number of findings. To start, adults with two or more children under five years-old reported getting 80 fewer minutes of weekly vigorous physical activity in comparison to others with no children or just one child in the same age group.
Similarly, adults with three or more children (ages 6-17) reported 50 fewer minutes of weekly vigorous physical activity than others with no children, one, or two kids in their home. However, the team did not note any significant differences pertaining to weekly moderate physical activity regardless of the number of children in a given household.
“Parents often face numerous challenges in finding the time and energy to engage in regular physical activity while caring for their children. By understanding these barriers, we can develop targeted interventions to help parents lead healthier and more active lives,” says study co-author Bettina Beech, Chief Population Health Officer at the University of Houston, and clinical professor of population health at the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, in a media release.
“Parents typically serve as the primary role models of health behaviors for their children. Finding ways to increase parents’ physical activity could potentially influence the health trajectories these young children begin on, especially for those parents with multiple kids,” adds lead study author Jerraco Johnson, an assistant professor of kinesiology, health promotion and recreation at the University of North Texas.
Study authors explain the implications of these findings are quite significant when it comes to forming new interventions and policies aimed at promoting more exercise among parents with multiple children. This work stresses the necessity of family based physical activity interventions in order to expand the focus beyond parent-child dyads or triads. In the future, including multiple children in these interventions may have a more significant impact on overall physical activity levels, researchers note.
“Workplace wellness programs have been shown as effective avenues for intervention,” explains study co-author Marino Bruce, director of UH Population Health Collaboratories and associate dean of research at the Fertitta Family College of Medicine. “Parents often spend a majority of their time outside of parenting in the workplace, making it an ideal setting to promote physical activity. By offering incentives, feedback mechanisms and short bouts of physical activity throughout the workday, employers can support parents in achieving their activity goals and overcoming time-related barriers.”
This project also found that the impact of kids on exercise does not appear to differ all that much between moms and dads. This is especially noteworthy because previous studies have suggested mothers may be more affected by parenting responsibilities. Researchers theorize this observed discrepancy may have been caused by the differing measurements of physical activity used in the studies. This latest work relied on self-reported sport, fitness and recreational activities.
In conclusion, study authors note further research is warranted to better understand this topic among parents with children of various ages. Still, this work highlights the importance of addressing the specific needs of parents with multiple children in order to foster a healthier and more active general population.
The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.