physical activity

A new study examines how physical activity (PA) varies between families on weekend days. Children engage in more PA when family-based activities are encouraged and implemented.


It has been widely recognized that there are numerous benefits to engaging in regular physical activity (PA). Not only does it enhance physical fitness, but it also acts as a facilitator to achieving overall health and wellness. The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that children spend at least 1 hour doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. In a society, however, where tablets, video games, cell phones, and other electronic devices are easily accessible, it is no wonder that the rate of childhood obesity has been increasing as children lead more sedentary lifestyles.

Children engage in both structured (i.e. organized sport) and unstructured activities (i.e. outdoor play), and the majority of their daily PA takes place during the weekdays while they are at school. This leaves considerable room for PA promotion on the weekend days, when children have less of a scheduled routine, and are more likely to spend time being inactive. According to a recent article published in BioMed Central Public Health, there is considerable variability in the amount of physical activity undertaken by families on weekend days. The researchers suggest that family-based PA interventions that include the whole family are more easily implemented on weekends, and are associated with higher physical activity in children. In order to investigate this further, researchers recruited 7 British families between June 2015 and April 2016 who had children attending one of three primary schools in Liverpool, UK.  Each family unit required at minimum one child participant aged 9-11 years old (‘target’ child) and at least one parent participant. In total there were 25 participants from the 7 families; 7 target children, 6 siblings (average age 7.2 +/- 0.7 years old), and 12 adults (7 mothers and 5 fathers). To appropriately measure their level of PA, the participants were required to wear an ActiGraph GT9X accelerometer on their left wrist during the hours they were awake on weekend days for a total of 8 weekends. In order for the results to be valid, the participant needed to wear the device for 10 hours or more, and they were instructed to remove it only when sleeping or engaging in water-based activities. In addition to the accelerometer, each participant was given a diary to log any activity that lasted greater than 10 minutes in duration. They were asked to indicate the location of activity, as well, whether or not they had company with them (i.e. on my own, with a brother/sister).

The authors discovered that  ‘target’ children’s weekend PA was mostly unstructured (63.9%) and spent with friends 54.2% of the time, and with family members 45.8% of the time. Mothers’ weekend PA was mostly unstructured and spent with family (49.3%) or spent alone (46.6%), while Fathers’ weekend PA included more club-based organizations. The researchers further included a case-study of two of the families to shed light on the role that socioeconomic status (SES) plays on the amount of PA families engage in on the weekends. It was determined that families with higher SES participated in more PA, and in more structured activities. Families with lower SES engaged in PA less, and when they did they were more likely to be unstructured activities. This could be because lower-income families are less likely to have the means to afford and access costly leisure activities on a regular basis.

The participants in this study were all white, British, and at a generally healthy weight. The sample size was also quite small, including only 25 individuals from 7 different families. These two factors reduce the ability of this study to be generalized to different population groups. However, this study showed the importance of families staying active together, and doing so on weekend days when there is more opportunity for family-based PA to be implemented.


Written By: Kimberly Spencer, B.Sc. (Hons)

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