Four reasons children should walk more to school

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by Dame Jane Roberts, physician, psychiatrist and president of Living Streets

Prasit Rodphan / Alamy Stock Photo

While a generation ago 70% of children walked to school, today less than half do, despite most living within two miles of their nearest primary school.

This has negative consequences on the mental and physical well-being of children, their independence and skills in road safety, traffic and congestion, as well as noise and air pollution.

This week is Walk to School week and Living Streets, the UK’s daily walking charity, is helping as many parents and children as possible learn about the importance of walking first hand, swapping the school run for a school walk.

Here are a few reasons why it is so beneficial for you and your children to start walking to school…

1. It’s free

Walking to and from the school is totally free! Instead of using money for petrol or paying for a bus, train or tram ride, accompanying your child to school can help you save money, while allowing you, as well only your children to be active and healthier.

2. It has multiple physical and mental health benefits

Walking to school has great health benefits – not only for children, but also for parents and guardians! It allows you and your children to get outside in nature, enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommend that children get 60 minutes of exercise a day for a healthy and active lifestyle. A 20-minute walk to and from school as part of a daily routine is an easy and accessible way to help with this.

Walking helps prevent long-term chronic physical health problems such as certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and improves the management of existing conditions. It has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing heart and lung disease, including high blood pressure. In fact, direct NHS savings from increased urban walking and cycling have been estimated at £17 billion over 20 years.

Helping your children be more physically active from an early age instills positive habits throughout life and increases the likelihood that they will continue to be physically active into adolescence and adulthood.

Walking is not only good for children’s bodies, but also for their minds and moods. More than half of parents surveyed in 2016 said their child’s mood always or sometimes improves after walking to school (OnePoll, 2016).

Children who walk to school have also been shown to arrive feeling more rested, alert and ready to learn, with improved behavior and concentration as well.

Walking stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. These trigger positive and happy feelings, help improve mental well-being, and reduce stress and anxiety. Given the worrying statistic that 15% of children aged 10 to15 show symptoms of poor mental health (ONS, 2018), the potential mental health benefits of encouraging your children to walk to school from an early age are significant.

3. It facilitates connection with people and the planet

Walking is a fantastic way for children to relax and connect with the world and those around them.

On the walk to school, you should encourage your children to take time to absorb the sights, smells and sounds they encounter, and to count the number of different interesting things they see on the way. This not only helps your children better understand their area, but can also redirect their mental awareness to the surroundings; it quiets their mind and focuses it on the present moment to instill a sense of calm. This helps reduce heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.

A walk to school can also help children bond with other people and contribute to social development. They may interact with friends they walk with or see on the trip, or even other people in the vicinity by smiling friendly or saying hello to a passerby.

Walking with your children allows you as a parent to spend quality time with your child, giving them a positive channel to express their thoughts, providing emotional support and helping to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation. To make the ride more enjoyable and build interaction and engagement, try taking photos of you and your kids along the way with a camera or cell phone, to capture lasting memories together.

4. It’s good for the environment

Along with the multitude of health and well-being benefits for parents and children, walking to school can also ultimately help the environment. The school alone is responsible for generating half a million tonnes of CO2 per year, contributing to carbon emissions and air pollution, as well as traffic congestion. By trading in a short drive for a short walk to school, you can help protect the planet with cleaner air and clearer roads.

RELATED: Simple Ways to Incorporate Walking into a Parent and Child’s Daily Routine

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