when parents get more exercise so do their kidsJust about every discussion of childhood obesity includes a recommendation that parents set a good example for their kids by getting more exercise. But are our children really paying any attention to what we do? According to Kristen Holm, Assistant Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health, the answer is a definite Yes. When parents increase their own levels of physical activity, their children do the same.

Holm and her colleagues tracked 83 families that were enrolled in a special program aimed at keeping overweight and obese 7-14-year olds from putting on even more weight. The researchers gave parents and children pedometers and asked them to walk an extra 2,000 steps per day. When the parents achieved that goal, their kids logged an average of 2,117 extra steps. But when the parents fell short, so did the kids.

As you might expect, parents and kids were more likely to hit the mark on weekends—typically a time when families are up and around and more likely to exercise than during the week. But what was especially interesting is that the effects generally didn’t last. In other words, walking 2,000 extra steps one day didn’t make anyone—adult or child—more likely to do the same thing the next day or the day after that.

Bottom line? If you want to change behavior, you can’t just do it once and hope it’ll happen again by itself.  Exercise needs to be a part of our daily lives, whether you want to do it or not.