Do you want to encourage your kids to be more physically active? According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, you won’t have a hard time convincing your children to exercise more if they hang out with friends who are more active.

Researchers led by Sabina Gesell, a research assistant professor in pediatrics at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, have found that children are easily influenced by their peers--and the consequences of such behavior aren’t always negative. To see how far the influence goes, they observed after-school program students from the ages of 5 to 12. The kids were made to wear a pedometer-like device, which measured muscle movement by the minute.

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In the beginning, none of the kids really knew each other well, but as they began to form new friendships, researchers saw a pattern emerge. Kids who made friends with six or more physically active children suddenly became more active. On the other hand, children who joined up with more sedentary playmates became less likely to engage in any form of exercise.

"We see evidence that the children are mirroring, emulating, or adjusting to be similar to their friends," says Gesell. "And that’s exciting because we saw meaningful changes in activity levels in 12 weeks."

Despite the novelty of the experiment, this isn’t the first study to look at how social connections contribute to lifestyle changes. Gesell’s study, however, is the first to try the experiment on children. So far, the results seem positive.

If you have kids you think could use more exercise, why don’t you try introducing them to other kids who are more physically active? This will also help your kids make more friends and develop a better self-image.

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(Photo by bacon_pola via sxc.hu)

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