Thursday, November 4, 2010

Promoting Physical Activity in Families

Family activities provide an opportunity for socializing in an age where families are increasingly disconnected by divergent daily schedules. Engaging in physical activities as a family can not only provide a way for families to spend more time together, but it can also help sustain parent-child communication (Thompson, Jago, Brockman, Cartwright, Page, et al., 2010) and assist each member of the family in developing healthy fitness habits. Many Parks & Recreation departments offer adequate facilities and programs, but the programs and classes focus primarily on individuals participating with their peers. The Families Together & Active program aims to provide physical activity instruction geared towards families participating together. The goals of the program are twofold: to improve participants’ performance and to foster positive attitudes toward physical activity.

Although family members may also opt to participate in activities on their own, having activities that families can participate in together offers important benefits. Primarily, it allows parents to serve as models of behavior for their children, both in valuing physical activity and in performing the actual tasks. Bryan (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 216) found support for the popular adage “actions speak louder than words” in that individuals (and specifically children) are more likely to do what they see another person doing rather than what the person says to do. Horn and Horn (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 218) found more specifically that parents’ attitudes and beliefs regarding physical activity as evidenced by their behaviors had a great influence on their children’s attitudes and behaviors. So parents participating in physical activities with their children can help the children develop positive attitudes towards physical activity. McCullagh and Weiss (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 215-216) posited that watching someone else learn a task can help an individual learn the task as well. And watching someone who is perceived to be similar to oneself, such as a family member, can increase performance among individuals as well (Gould & Weiss, as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 216). Therefore watching their parents learn a task can increase a child’s performance as well as help them to learn the task.

The availability of a variety of physical activities for families to participate in together is also important. Each family member is likely to have their own opinion on what activities interest them. A wide variety increases the likelihood that families will find an activity that they can all agree on. Some of the classes to be offered for families to participate in together (based on instructor availability) include: karate, yoga, tennis, basketball, hiking, soccer, and swimming. The focus in these classes will mainly be on basic skills, but encouraging interaction among the participants will also be an important component. Participants will also be encouraged to practice their skills at home with a “homework assignment.” This “homework” may consist of breathing exercises or practicing movements/poses and should be completed with the help of a family member, who can provide feedback.

In addition to instructor-lead classes, families would have access to facilities for open use on certain days/times. This not only gives families time to practice what they are learning in instructor-lead classes, but it also encourages them to continue their physical activity in a non-structured way. This prepares them for continuing their fitness habits outside of a class setting which helps ensure long-term maintenance of physical activity and fitness.

Parents have a great influence on their children’s attitudes and behaviors when it comes to physical activity. By implementing a program that allows parents and children to participate together in physical activities, the positive effects of parental modeling can be maximized to increase performance and positive attitudes. Additionally, family participation can help to foster an environment at home where physical activity and other healthy habits are the norm.


Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise
     (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Thompson, J. , Jago, R. , Brockman, R. , Cartwright, K. , Page, A. , et al. (2010).
     Physically active families de-bunking the myth? A qualitative study of family
     participation in physical activity. Child Care, Health & Development, 36(2), 265-

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