Parents take 5 to 15 years to get back to sport after the birth of a child

Parents do not regain pre-child sporting levels for many years, sports researchers have found.

The Sport Switzerland 2020 study reported that it takes dads at least five years – and mums 15 years – to become as active as they were before having a baby.

For the first time in the report, carried out every six years, the authors noticed a drop in sport among young fathers as well as young mothers, though the effect lasts longer for women.

“The birth of a child leads to a visible but temporary decline in sports activity,” researchers explained. “Parents of young children are often forced to reduce their practice of sport.”

They added: “Mothers of young children considerably reduce their sporting activities. Today, contrary to 2014, this reduction is markedly also noticeable among men. But compared to women, men restart their activities more quickly – as soon as the children are a little bigger.”

Women aged 35 to 46 least likely of any group to be very active

For the Sport Switzerland 2020 study, by the Federal Office of Sport (OFSPO), researchers interviewed more than 12,000 Swiss residents aged 15 and over about their sporting habits and attitudes. They concluded that, contrary to in the past, women do almost as much sport as men – but this is very dependent on their time of life, and is not true for parents.

Women aged 35 to 46 (mums of young children) are the least likely of any age or gender group to be very active – beaten easily by all other age groups, including the over-75s.

Forty-two percent of 35 to 46-year-old women practice sport several times a week, for a total of at least three hours, compared to 53% of women aged 45 to 54, and 47% of women aged over 75.

This dip for parenting is not so visible for men. There is, however, a huge reduction in the proportion of very active males between ages 15 to 24 (67%) and 25 to 34 (48%).

Households with older teenagers are the most active of all

Parents with children under the age of five are the least likely of any household type to be very active. As children grow, parents of both sexes reprise sporting activities. Households with children aged 5 to 14 have the smallest proportion of completely inactive people. Households with children over the age of 15 have the highest proportion of very active people, doing more than three hours of sport a week.

The study said: “Certainly, between 20 and 40 years old, the proportion of very active people continues to reduce, but it rises again afterwards and today it is the same (58%) among 65 to 74-year-olds as it is among 15 to 24-year-olds (59%).”

Many women do more sport in the second half of their life than they did in the first.

Switzerland one of the four most active countries in Europe

Switzerland, along with Sweden, Denmark and Finland, is one of the sportiest countries in Europe.

Nevertheless, 21% of people in French-speaking Switzerland never do any sport at all. Seven percent occasionally practise sport and six percent do sport for less than two hours a week.

The World Health Organization recommends a minimum for adults of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week.

Why do some people do no sport at all?

Nine percent of inactive people said that doing sport would harm family life, and nearly 10 percent said it was too expensive. Most people said they did not have enough time, were too tired, didn’t want to or enjoy sport, or had health reasons preventing them from doing it.

Factors which make Swiss residents less likely to do sport are being unemployed, having reduced incomes, being an immigrant, being a woman, being a parent, and having health problems.

The main reasons inactive people give for not doing sport are a lack of time or health problems. Seventy percent of inactive people used to do sport in the past, and one third of them would be willing to try again.

Our definition of sport is expanding

The definition of sport has expanded and, in recent years, sports such as walking, yoga and strength training have gained in popularity. The report said: “It is therefore in health sports, leisure sports and sport for wellbeing, and not in performance sport and traditional competition, that practices have been gaining ground.”

Twenty-two percent of the Swiss population belong to a sports club – mostly men or young people under the age of 25. Compared to six years ago when the last sports report was published, people on lower household incomes are less likely to belong to a sports club.

A fifth of the population belongs to gyms or fitness centres – especially young people, people with higher incomes, and people living in towns and cities.

People gave as their reasons for doing sport: health, to keep fit, pleasure, getting out into nature, relaxation, stress reduction and to improve their appearance. Very few mentioned performance or competition as a motivating factor, especially not women.

Each Swiss resident spends an average of CHF 2,000 a year on sports

People in Switzerland spend an average of CHF 2,000 a year each on sport, with CHF 580 of that going on clothing and equipment, and another CHF 580 on sporting holidays and travelling. The most money is spent by men, German-speakers, people aged 35-54 and Swiss nationals.

French and Italian-speaking Switzerland is still less active than German-speaking Switzerland, but is quickly catching up. The proportion of very active people rises progressively for households earning more money, and with higher education levels, and the number of inactive people reduces.

The Sport Switzerland 2020 study will report further findings, including an analysis of responses from teenagers and a series of interviews carried out with children aged 10 to 14, over the coming months.