Parents hold the key to their daughter’s relationship with exercise

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Almost a quarter of parents with children aged 11–16 are motivated to exercise to be a positive role model for their children, and this increases in parents of young girls. 80% of parents believe they positively influence their daughter’s movement habits, and 76% of daughters agree.

New research from Nuffield Health highlights the crucial role parents, caregivers and guardians play in shaping their daughters' attitudes towards exercise and physical activity.

Research from Nuffield Health’s fourth Healthier Nation Index reveals that just under a quarter1 (24%) of parents with children aged 11-16 are motivated to exercise to be a positive role model for their children.

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Further research into parents2 of girls aged 11-16 shows 34%3 want to exercise more frequently in order to role model healthy habits, with 80% of parents surveyed believing they positively influence their daughters' movement habits, a sentiment shared by 76% of the daughters themselves. This demonstrates the empowering role that parents have to influence their daughter’s relationship with exercise positively.

This research explores inherited attitudes towards movement as well as parental knowledge around the importance of early engagement in physical activity. For those less active growing up4, almost half (48%) of parents say it was because they weren’t raised in a ‘sporty family’, 34% say they didn’t enjoy sport growing up and 25% weren’t encouraged to by their adult role models. This highlights the generational and cultural impacts parents also experienced and how attitudes and behaviours towards movement instilled at an early age are carried into adult life.

Looking at what parents have learned about health and exercise over time, self-esteem was a leading theme. More than a third (39%) of parents surveyed would tell their younger self to be more ‘body confident’, a third (33%) would tell their younger self that movement will help with your mental health and 27% would say being fit, strong and healthy is more important than weight.

The research shows parents leading concerns for their young girls’ health include spending too much time on social media (32%) followed by not eating enough healthy food (28%) and just under a quarter worry about their daughter’s low self-esteem (24%). With over half (57%) of parents wishing to exercise more frequently with their daughters to enhance quality time together, this creates an opportunity to positively role model the mental and physical benefits of movement.

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In response to these insights, Nuffield Health is encouraging parents, caregivers and guardians to take action by role-modelling positive relationships with movement to increase engagement in girls from a young age. Nuffield Health’s Move Together programme offers free classes 5 for girls aged 11 to 16, which aims to get girls moving in a safe and enjoyable environment. Parents accompanying their children can also enjoy a complimentary free day pass to the gym this summer6.

Former Lioness and Nuffield Health ambassador, Fara Williams, is raising awareness of Nuffield Health’s 'Move Together' programme to encourage more engagement with movement amongst young girls.

Fara Williams, reflecting on her experiences said: “Movement has been a part of my life from a young age, but it’s because it’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed doing. The moment I was forced to do something that I didn’t like, it made me disengage from it – and this is something we’re still seeing. From my experiences of teaching young girls now, I know how crucial it is for them to find an activity they enjoy, because it helps instil those habits of staying active, and reaping the benefits, from a young age. Move Together classes are a great way to do this – they’re free, accessible and fun, helping to address some of the barriers young girls are facing today.”

Hannah Maxwell, Group Exercise Manager and Personal Trainer at Nuffield Health said: “Our data shows parents recognise the hurdles their daughters face regarding movement, but both want to enjoy exercise more together which is really positive. The aim is to find a type of movement you love at a young age, which helps instil healthy habits, so they continue into adulthood. By providing accessible free classes and gym passes, we aim to break down these barriers for parents and the young girls they look after and encourage families to incorporate fun, regular physical activity into their lives. Movement can be fun and look different to everyone.”

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