New research from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton in the United Kingdom suggests that fewer than half of mothers met recommended activity levels, a number that was even lower when the children were younger or there was more than one.
“It is perhaps not unexpected that mothers who have young children or several children engage in less intense physical activity, but this is the first study that has quantified the significance of this reduction,” said study author Keith Godfrey. He is a professor of epidemiology and human development at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre at Southampton.
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“More needs to be done by local government planners and leisure facility providers to support mothers in engaging in physical activity,” Godfrey said in a university news release.
For the study, the team analyzed data from 848 women who participated in the U.K. Southampton Women’s Survey.
The women were aged 20 to 34, and were recruited between 1998 and 2002. The researchers followed up with them over the years.
The study found that women with school-aged children did an average of about 26 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. For mothers with children aged 4 and younger, that was an average of 18 minutes per day.
Having a second or more children altered the average for the moms of school-age kids, who got about 21 minutes of exercise daily.
Mothers with multiple kids under age 5 didn’t fit the mold, doing more light-intensity activity than those with children of school-age, the investigators found.
Regardless of whether their children were school-age or younger, fewer than 50% of mothers got the recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise.
“When you have small children, your parental responsibilities can be all-consuming, and it’s often hard to find the time to be active outside of time spent caring for your children. Exercise is often therefore one of the first things to fall by the wayside, and so most of the physical activity mums manage to do seems to be of a lower intensity,” said Dr. Kathryn Hesketh, from the MRC epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge.
Moms do manage more physical activity when their kids go to school, Hesketh added.
“There are a number of possible reasons why this might be the case, including more opportunities to take part in higher-intensity activities with their children, you may return to active commuting, or feel more comfortable using time to be active alone,” Hesketh suggested.
Rachel Simpson, a PhD student in the MRC epidemiology unit, pointed out that while the demands of being a mother may make it hard to find extra time, there are clear benefits — both short-term and long-term — to doing physical activity, especially that which increases your heart rate.
“We need to consider ways not only to encourage mums, but to make it as easy as possible for busy mums, especially those with younger children, to increase the amount of higher-intensity physical activity they do,” Simpson said.
The findings were published online Nov. 16 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more recommendations on physical activity for adults.
SOURCE: University of Cambridge, news release, Nov. 16, 2022