A study, published in Pediatrics last year, suggests that the more active a mother is the more physically active her child will be. Active parents equal active children!
However, we also know that many mothers' exercise levels fell way below recommended levels.The study concluded that children are not ‘just naturally active’, and parents have a really important role to play in developing healthy exercise habits early on in life. Hence, the researchers recommended that policies to improve children's health should be aimed specifically at mothers.
As a pregnant parkrunner I want to make sure I take full advantage of opportunities to be active, now and after the birth of my baby. It’s so good to know parkrun and junior parkruns are 100% family friendly.
It’s not just about the individual: it’s about getting whole generations of the same family involved. That includes mums, as well as dads, and, unlike many other events, we welcome those who want to run with a buggy. Even at the hilliest of courses, like my home event in Ashton Court, I regularly see families with buggies pushing their child-in-buggy up the steep hill, and rivalling F1 drivers for speed on the downhill!
Kathryn Ambrose from Hanley parkrun is a great case in point: “I’ve been running with my buggy since Giovanna was about four months old, and I have to say it has become a key part of my training regime. It has meant that I can run without needing a babysitter, and my core/upper body strength has really improved. This has translated to faster times and greater endurance, which I am certain, has helped in the ultras I have completed this year. Not with the buggy, I might add! She thoroughly enjoys it too and we have a really good chat as we plod along”.
We know from our own internal research that many parents can be put off doing exercise due to the lack of childcare. Well, as Kathryn mentions parkrun solves that problem because everyone can take part together, whether that is running, walking or volunteering.
Role modelling is a two way street - sometimes it’s the kids that get their parents running, and sometimes it’s the other way round. We are finding that junior parkruns are not only getting little legs running but are also encouraging many mums and dads to take part in something new. At junior parkrun parents can run with their youngster/s and for mums and dads who are just starting off, or coming back to, running 2k can be a more accessible distance. The children can often be seen dragging the parent around, rather than the parent encouraging the child! Of course, mums and dads can also volunteer while their child takes part in the event. That way they get out in the open air, meet new people, learn new skills and give their kids the opportunity to be active at the same time. That’s a win-win for all!
There are thousands of examples, but here are just two stories from the field…
parkrunner, Emma Andrew, started running after accompanying her son to the trial run for Aylestone junior parkrun. Her words are music to our ears:
“At the trial event for Aylestone junior parkrun Ali, the Event Director, suggested that I take on the role of tail runner. I loved it. I also got to complete my first ever 2k mostly non-stop. That was it: I was hooked. It gave me the confidence to attempt Braunstone parkrun the next week where a friend helped me complete my first non-stop 5k. From that point on I decided I could call myself a runner!
Of course, Aylestone junior parkrun has helped children get more active but for me it has been a life changer. I met a great team of people who have encouraged and supported me along my running journey. I have completed the Leadership in Running Fitness Course and set up beginner running sessions in my village, I run a Workplace Running Group for Leicester-Shire and Rutland Sport, become a Run Leader Champion, become the Sport Development Officer in my local Council, ran a 10 mile race and I’m about to run the Leicester Half Marathon. So although junior parkrun is ultimately for the kids, it’s impact is much further reaching.”
Here's Emma (with full beard!), her sister Katie and her son Ewan volunteering at Braunstone parkrun at the end of last year.
The second fantastic story comes from Emma Poole and her children Lewys and Carys, from Bedfont Lakes parkrun and Moormead juniors.
“In February 2014 my daughter Carys, then aged 7, asked me to run the Race for Life with her. I said "Of course!" and then panicked as I couldn't run to the end of the road, let alone 5k! Carys was already a regular junior parkrunner and I had some serious work to do to keep my promise. My husband, who has 287 parkruns under his belt, dug out a beginners training programme and in April 2014 we were ready to try a 5k. Whilst visiting Swansea, Carys and I ran our first ever parkrun at Llyn Llech Owain in a time of 42:22. That day marked a sea-change in my life, where I discovered a love for running that I never knew I had. It also made a huge difference to us as a family, as we then started regularly running together at our home event at Bedfont Lakes. Initially, the children and I would go and support their dad by volunteering together. Carys has even been a Run Director and I am now a Run Director at Moormead junior parkrun.
The best thing is that we get to enjoy each other's company without any distractions of homework, television or Lego! We get a chance to talk, sing, run through puddles and generally just be a family, with our extended parkrun family. I can honestly say it has brought us much closer together as a family. Individually, it has helped Carys's fitness and confidence and she recently passed the 50 milestone. For Lewys, it has stabilised his asthma and given him huge amounts of stamina (not always a good thing!) - "I love running with my Mum as she helps me get a PB and let's me run through puddles!" For me, I have discovered something I am actually quite good and have the opportunity to get closer to my children and talk about our week. I have also learnt to embrace running through those puddles!”
The desire to promote physical activity amongst mums like these two Emmas is one of the reasons why parkrun has decided to partner with Netmums in an exciting new campaign. With almost two million members Netmums is the UK’s largest parenting website, and collectively Netmums have more than 2,000,000 children! Netmums is actually a family of local sites that cover the UK, each site offering information to mothers on everything from where to find playgroups and how to eat healthily to where to meet other mothers. The Netmums’ mission to help families have fun with their children and bring people together to make local communities more lively and friendly firmly aligns with parkrun’s own vision.
As you may have read in the weekly Newsletter last week, this new Netmums Run Programme is a three-month initiative which is focused on encouraging the Netmums community to get active by running, jogging or walking - and helping them to realise the many benefits that this brings. We believe that there is no better place than a junior parkrun or a parkrun for Netmums and dads and their kids to begin, and carry on, their running journey.
The Programme has been developed in collaboration with England Athletics, and comprises a comprehensive website which includes a 5k training programme, inspiring and informative articles and videos, personal stories, a running partner and group finder. Of course, there are also many links to parkrun and junior parkrun throughout the site as the perfect place for Netmums and their kids to get active. You can find out more details about the Run Programme here.
We all know that parents are strong influencers in the lives of young children, with patterns of behaviour established in the early years laying the foundation for future choices. Likewise, children can also help their parents get active. We want to see more mums, dads, kids, grandparents and even great-grandparents taking part on a Saturday or Sunday, and the Netmums initiative is just one small, but important, way that we can make that happen across the UK. So please get behind it in any way you can and get those little legs, and adult ones, moving!