Good communication between fathers and adolescents influences physical activity levels

A doctoral dissertation from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, found that having difficulties in talking with one's father predicted a decrease in physical activity and the maintenance of low physical activity between adolescence and young adulthood. Reduced physical activity also related to unfavorable changes in cardiometabolic risk factors - glucose metabolism, HDL cholesterol levels, and body mass index. Continuing participation in sports clubs until young adulthood supported the maintenance of physical activity.

Those adolescents whose physical activity decreased to a low level or who sustained low physical activity during the transition to young adulthood more commonly reported difficulties in talking to their father about issues that troubled them. They also ate fewer fruits and vegetables at age 19 than young people who were physically active through adolescence. The young people whose physical activity decreased to a low level also smoked more commonly as a young adult than the active ones did.

The relationship between difficulties in talking with one's father and decreased or maintained low physical activity is an interesting and new finding."

Tuula Aira, doctoral researcher from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences

"Health promotion that does not directly involve physical activity should be seen as an opportunity to promote physical activity. For example, the interaction between a father and an adolescent may be reflected in physical activity behavior. This would be worth investigating in more detail in the future."+

Decreasing physical activity is reflected in disease risk factors already in adolescence

The health benefits of physical activity do not only become relevant at an older age. The decrease in young people's physical activity from age 15 was reflected in unfavorable changes in glucose metabolism, high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and body mass index. Similarly, highly active 15-year-olds who further increased their activity as young adults benefited from lowered blood pressure even before age 20.

"Cardiovascular diseases are the most common causes of death and reduce the quality of life of sufferers," Aira emphasizes. "It is important to be aware that physical activity habits affect the risk factors for these diseases at a young age."

Participation in sports clubs supports the maintenance of activity

The study also found that withdrawal from a sports club was common. About one third of the study participants dropped out of sports club activities after age 15. The continuation of sports club activities seemed to support the maintenance of physical activity.

"Sports clubs deserve credit for supporting the maintenance of physical activity of those participating in club activities," Aira says. "However, the dropout from sports club makes one wonder to what extent it is possible to continue the hobby with smaller goals and less time input as a young adult, when other leisure activities, studies or working life take more time."

In her dissertation, Aira utilized unique Finnish follow-up data, in which physical activity was measured with an accelerometer and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes with laboratory tests when the participants were 15 and 19 years old. Information about young people's lifestyle and family was collected via surveys. The study is part of Diverging paths in physical activity and sports participation: Health Promoting Sports Club (HPSC) cohort study, which has been carried out as a collaboration between the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences (University of Jyväskylä), the UKK Institute and the network of Finnish Sports and Exercise Medicine centers. The study has been funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

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