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walking to school

Another Great Reason to Walk to School

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Karla P. Shelnutt, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is in honor of International Walk to School Day, held today, Oct 8.

When I was a child, I walked to elementary school every day. I remember the route vividly, from the house where we were sure a witch lived to the yard where my best friend and I once conducted a funeral for a dead worm.

These days, however, a child who walks to school is something of a rarity. According to the National Safe Routes to School Taskforce, about 16% of trips to and from school are made on foot, and about 2% on bike.

There is, however, a movement afoot to get kids walking to school again, in part due to concern about childhood obesity. And the good news is, these efforts have had some success, with walking rates increasing about 5% over the last 5 years. It seems that at least some parents and communities are seeing the benefit of getting out into the fresh air, saving gas, and exercising.

But did you know that walking to school might also help your child cope better with the stress of the school day? A 2010 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise revealed this possible benefit.

The researchers put two groups of children through a simulation of either riding or walking to school. The kids either sat in a chair and watched a slideshow of a suburban neighborhood or walked a mile on a treadmill while seeing the same slideshow. Researchers then gave the children a short test that challenged them intellectually. Compared to the kids who sat passively, walkers had lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, and reported lower stress during the intellectual task.

This research suggests that walking to school could  help children cope with the everyday academic and emotional challenges of school–providing more reason to get children moving, even first thing in the morning.

Some parents may be interested in having children walk or bike to school, but feel hesitant due to safety and supervision concerns. Safe Routes to School offers support for schools and parents who’d like their children and children in their community to be able to safely walk and bike to school. Visit their web site to learn more about the resources they offer, including grants, school training, and info for parents who might like to start a “walking school bus”—a group of volunteers in a neighborhood who take turns walking small groups of kids to school, picking up kids along the way just like a “real” bus.

(Photo credit: IMG_20101006_081218 by MoBikeFed. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading

Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop: A great guide for parents who want to teach their children how to walk safely to school (and elsewhere!)

Walking School Bus

Walk/Bike to School

References:

Lambiase, M. J., Barry, H. M., & Roemmich, J. M. (2010). Effect of a simulated active commute to school on cardiovascular stress reactivity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(8), 1609-1616. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d0c77b

Safe Routes to School Task Force (2013). Trends in walking and biking to school from 2007 to 2012. Retrieved from http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/task_force/collateral/task_force_report.web.pdf

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2010). New benefits of walking to school. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)