Walking to School: What Are the Health Benefits for Kids?
These days, walking to school is a rarity for most children—especially in a society influenced by the importance of owning and driving a nice vehicle. If children aren’t being brought to and from school by mom or dad, then at least 26 million of them ride the bus every day.
Since 1973, the percentage of children who walk to school has dropped by almost 30%. This means more riding and less physical activity. This dramatic drop in physical activity is believed to be a big influence on the nation’s rising childhood obesity rate.
“Unhealthy food choices combined with a lack in physical activity has contributed to the nation’s increase in childhood obesity,” says Christy Shatlock, MS/RD, and one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD. “This is even influenced more by the decline in children not walking or riding a bike to school.”
We explain why kids aren’t walking to school anymore, and how making them walk or ride a bike can have a significant impact on their health.
Why You Should Make Them Walk
Children living in urban areas and from lower-income families are more likely to ride a bicycle or walk to school.
In the results of this study, recently published by the Journal of Pediatrics, 7,000 children between the ages of 6 to 10 living in urban areas were more likely to choose a form of active transportation over riding to school—either walking or riding a bike.
“This choice to either ride or bike to school will have a significant impact on the health of these children,” says Christy. “Today, most children don’t reach the minimum requirement of physical activity. Riding a bike or walking to school certainly helps.”
On average, children between the ages of 5-10 are supposed to get at least 20-30 minutes of physical activity per day, 5 days out of the week. In addition to helping your child maintain a healthy level of physical activity, making sure that they exercise every day can promote stronger development of bones and muscles, but also help them maintain a better self-image.
“Children want to feel good about themselves, just like adults,” says Christy. “Encouraging your child to exercise can help them maintain a leaner physique, as well as promote a stronger development of bones and muscles.”
Make the Activity Easier
“Active transportation to school represents an affordable and easy way to incorporate physical activity into the daily routines of children,” says Christy. “Where your child attends school can also make a big difference on their health.”
In the same study, children who attended a private school that was further away from home were less likely to engage in any type of physical activity, than kids who attended private school within two miles of their home. This is why location is an important factor when it comes to your kids “actively” getting to school.
“If possible, encourage your child to walk or ride a bike to school if they live less than two miles away,” says Christy. “On a weekend day, walk or ride your bike with your child on the same path they will take. This will help them feel more comfortable, and help them adjust to the distance.”
Safety is also a concern for many parents when their child is walking or riding to school. If necessary, have your child call you when they arrive to school and before they leave school each day. Time your child’s route so you know when they are supposed to arrive to school and arrive at home each day. This way, you can monitor your child’s safety while promoting more physical activity.
“Parents can help their children feel more comfortable with riding their bike or walking to school by praising them for their hard work,” says Christy. “Reward your child for their efforts by taking them to one of their favorite places over the weekend, or plan a weekend getaway. Just make sure that you don’t reward them with sweets or junk food.”
To see more tips from our experts, visit our healthy facts section for more helpful information.