Trying to guilt middle-schoolers into exercising will not get them to be any more active, suggested University of Georgia researchers. They observed that students who do not feel in control of their exercise choices or who feel pressured by adults to be more active typically are not, while middle-schoolers who feel they can make their own decisions about exercising are more likely to see themselves as a person who exercises, which in turn makes them more likely to exercise.
Lead author Rod Dishman said, "This age is a critical juncture in a child's life, as kids typically decrease their activity levels by 50% between fifth and sixth grades. The results confirm that the beliefs these kids hold are related to physical activity levels. But, can we put these children in situations where they come to value and enjoy the act of being physically active?"
Researchers at the University of South Carolina are now looking at ways to help kids identify with exercise at a younger age, so that by the time they reach middle school they are more likely to identify as someone who exercises. This might mean teaching students more structured games in elementary school, integrating physical activities into classroom lessons or expanding community recreational leagues to give children more opportunities to improve on a particular sport.
Dishman said, "What parents and teachers don't want to create, is a sense of guilt for not exercising. The research overwhelmingly found that students who felt obligated to be more active were less likely to embrace activity overall. The best thing is to do it because it's fun and it's the kids who say they are intrinsically motivated who are more active than the kids who aren't."
The study appears in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.