University of Jyväskylä

Physical activity counselling affects parents and get children to move

A research conducted at the University of Jyväskylä in 2011–2013 supports the understanding that parents can affect their children’s physical activity behavior. A unique finding of the study was that especially the parents who have previously provided only little support for their children’s physical activity can make changes that have a positive effect on the daily physical activity of the children.

A remarkable proportion of children move too little from the perspective of their growth and development. Home environment, especially parents, are known to play a key role in the birth of physical activity habits. Physical activity-related parenting practices are known to be very stable and difficult to intervene.

The study reveals that physical activity counseling can have an effect on the parenting practices and, consequently, children’s daily physical activity. In particular, the parents providing little support for their children’s daily physical activity can make behavior changes that increase the children’s physical activity.

-         During the six-month counseling period, the parents who tended to provide scarcely support for their children’s daily physical activity remarkably increased the level of support. Correspondingly, the level of their children’s physical activity increased by almost one third compared to the children of control group families, says Postdoctoral Researcher Arto Laukkanen from the University of Jyväskylä.

Parenting practices that support children’s physical activity can be divided into three categories: being physically active with the children, having an encouraging atmosphere for physical activity and supporting children’s physical activity directly or indirectly, such as taking children to parks or hobbies and paying the costs.

-         Home environment that respects child-oriented practices and provides freedom and stimuli for physical activity has been found to associate with the creation of sustained physical activity habits. In the present study, we encouraged parents, at least when with the children, to favor walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and going outdoors at least once a weekend, Laukkanen explains.

-         As a rule of thumb, we used an idea that children are physically active for about an hour at school or daycare, and the recommended another physically active hour should accumulate during the leisure time, he continues.

Permanent changes are challenging – also in parenting

Although the results were encouraging, physical activity-related parenting practices, as well as the level of children’s physical activity, returned to the baseline level after the six-month counseling period. Therefore, it should be investigated in further studies how the parenting practices could become a more lasting part of parenting. The physical activity habits of new families should be paid attention to in a very early phase, and their development should be supported continuously.

The research was published in the distinguished journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport on 6 June 2017. The research was conducted in cooperation with Professor Taija Juutinen, Senior Researcher Arja Sääkslahti and Doctor of Sport Sciences Arto Pesola from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä.

More information:

Postdoctoral Researcher Arto Laukkanen,, tel. 044 075 8578
Link to the publication: 
Information on the research project:

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