Outdoor Activity Provides Health Benefits for Parents

Physical activity improves physical and mental well being. But life changes like pregnancy can curtail exercise behavior. This study, based in a Swedish town, indicated that significant numbers of soon-to-be parents continued to perform outdoor recreational physical activity. Owning a dog or horse significantly improved the likelihood of being physically active outdoors. Higher education and participation in indoor activity were other factors that precipitated participation in outdoor physical activity. In contrast to previous findings, this study showed that more women than men participated in such activities.

Physical activity has many benefits, including reduction in health problems and improved mental health. Outdoor recreational physical activity means being outside in natural or cultural landscapes for non-competitive fitness activity. Despite documented benefits, only 23 percent of adults in Sweden participate in recreational physical activity. However, life-changing events like pregnancy are known to affect people’s behavior, including their participation in physical activity. Parents also play an important role in the socialization and development of physical activity patterns in their children. Knowledge of physical activity patterns in parents is important for developing effective health-promotion programs. The current study was aimed at finding these patterns in expectant parents in a Swedish town.

* A total of 224 women and 208 men, who were expectant parents, participated in the study.
* A questionnaire based on Swedish Survey of Living Conditions was given to the participants, as also a nation-wide survey about nature tourism and outdoor life in Sweden.
* The questionnaires investigated the level of education, age, personal financial situation, cohabitation, dog or horse ownership, living conditions, previous children and their age, and consumption of alcohol and tobacco etc. in the participants.
* The questionnaires also gathered information about outdoor recreational physical activity undertaken in the previous 12 months and the reasons for participating, obstacles in performing the activity etc.

* Data showed that 121 women participants had children, 95 percent of them aged newborn to 5 years. One hundred and thirteen men had children, 94 percent of them aged newborn to 5 years.
* A total of 76 percent of women had participated in outdoor recreational physical activity in the last 12 months, as opposed to 65 percent of men.
* The results also showed that 99 percent of women and 95 percent of men thought that outdoor recreational activities had a positive impact on feelings of well-being.
* Having a dog or a horse proved to be an important factor associated with the probability of participation in outdoor recreational physical activity. Women undertook walking as an outdoor activity more than men.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The participants in this study indicated how often they participated in outdoor recreational physical activity and not the intensity of the exercises or time spent in exercising. This is a retrospective study. Data collection in such studies is based on self-reported answers provided by the participants. In such cases, there is a risk of over- and underestimation in the responses.

More than 95 percent of the participants who routinely performed outdoor recreational physical activity reported that it had a positive impact on them. Outdoor recreational activities include not only sports and exercises. It includes walking, sunbathing, bird watching and even hunting. Such activities are easier to perform with children. As pregnancy is a life-changing event females may be restricting their participation in outdoor recreational activities. Midwives can educate pregnant women about the health benefits associated with performing outdoor recreational activities. These activities have the potential to improve the physical and mental health of not just the individual participants but of the entire family too.

For More Information:
Parenthood and Factors Influencing Outdoor Recreational Physical Activity
Publication Journal: BMC Public Health, February 2011
By Katarina Sjögren; Eva Ekvall Hansson; Malmo University Hospital, Malmo, Sweden

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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