Getting children to encourage their peers to exercise may be the best way to inspire kids to stay more active, according to new research presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association. The finding introduces a wrinkle in current recommendations that parents play a key role in encouraging children to exercise.
“For a child to be active, they have to really enjoy the activity,” says Stephen Daniels, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We have to find activities they like and settings that promote activity, so this really helps us understand how to do that and emphasizes the fact that having friends involved can be a big motivator.”
The study, which relied on interviews of more than 100 children of various ages, found that kids enjoyed working out more when they did it with friends. Children also got over typical excuses, like not having the right equipment or not being good at, when accompanied by their friends. Though children clearly like exercising with friends, less than half of kids actually do it, according to the study.
Of course, encouragement to exercise by peers only worked if the peers were, in fact, encouraging. “If you’re not picking the right peer group, it could backfire in a way,” Daniels says. “I think finding kids and friends who will be non-judgmental who really are there for the fun of the activity and not there to criticize, etc. is an important part of this.”
Overall, the study found that feeling self-conscious, low enjoyment, health concerns, a lack of self-discipline and a lack of energy were the most common impediments to children’s exercise.