Mothers who have young or multiple children may engage in less intense physical activity

A new study exploring physical activity patterns among mothers in Britain suggests that mothers of young children and mothers of multiple children may engage in lower amounts of moderate or vigorous physical activity.

Rachel Simpson and colleagues at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre and NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on November 16, 2022.

Previous research has shown that parents engage in less physical activity than non-parents, suggesting that parents may miss out on some of the many health benefits of physical activity. Research into the factors associated with this reduced activity has been limited, though some evidence suggests that mothers’ activity patterns may change once their children are old enough to attend school.

To better understand physical activity habits among mothers, Simpson and colleagues analyzed data from the Southampton Women’s Survey. 848 mothers were asked to wear an accelerometer to track the intensity and duration of their physical activity for up to seven days. The researchers distinguished between overall physical activity of any intensity and the more specific category of moderate or vigorous physical activity, which has greater health benefits than light physical activity.

Statistical analysis of the accelerometer data revealed differences in physical activity habits for mothers of different numbers of children and mothers of children of different ages.

Mothers of at least one school-aged child—a child older than 4 years—tended to engage in greater amounts of moderate or vigorous physical activity than mothers of solely younger children. Mothers of multiple children engaged in lower amounts of moderate or vigorous physical activity than mothers of only children.

Among mothers of multiple children, those with at least one school-aged child had a lower amount of overall physical activity than mothers of solely younger children. For mothers with at least one younger child, those with more children engaged in more overall physical activity.

These findings suggest the possibility that specific groups of moms, specifically mothers of younger children or multiple children, might gain health benefits from efforts to boost their opportunities for higher-intensity activity. The researchers note that further research is needed to inform development of such efforts.

The authors add: “We need to find ways to help mothers of younger (<5s) or multiple children to engage in higher intensity physical activity.”

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