WHY SHOULD CHILDREN WALK TO SCHOOL?
With childhood obesity on the rise (see our blog on Childhood obesity – what can we do?), initiatives such as International Walk to School (IWALK) month are a useful way to draw attention to the benefits children gain from keeping active and to encourage participation.
The charity Living Streets says that more than 70% of children walked to school a generation ago but that this figure has fallen to less than 46% today (National Travel Survey 2014).
WHEN AND HOW DID THIS CAMPAIGN START?
The roots of the campaign were in the first Walk to School week, held in the UK in 1995 with five primary schools in Hertfordshire taking part. The following year the campaign received a national launch by the organisation that became Living Streets, which continues to run the initiative today, with funding from the Department for Health and the Department for Transport.
The idea spread globally and in 2000 the first International Walk to School Day was held, followed by an International Walk to School Week in 2003. Britain then became a founder member of the first International Walk to School month, first held in October 2006, with more than 10 million students taking part in 40 different countries.
Today Walk to School Week is held in Britain at the end of May and International Walk to School Month is held every October, with local events and national publicity.
WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF WALKING?
Walking to school offers many physical benefits for children and adults, including:
- Weight management
- Keeping blood pressure under control
- Maintenance of bone, muscle and joint health
- Reduced risk of diabetes
The NHS Choices website (www.nhs.uk) says: “Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.” (See our blogs on Personal Training – Diabetes, What is the new heart attack blood test? and How to train clients with asthma.)
Furthermore, a recent study at Saarland University in Germany found that 25 minutes a day of brisk walking could add up to seven years to a person’s life – based on a survey of 69 healthy but inactive non-smokers aged between 30 and 60, who were put on a six-month programme of exercise. (See our blog on Nordic Walking – moving on up!)
Finally, children who walk to school have been found to be more physically active throughout the day.
WHAT OTHER BENEFITS DO CHILDREN GET FROM WALKING TO SCHOOL?
A YouGov survey recently commissioned by Living Streets found that many children mentioned spending time with friends or family as their favourite thing about walking to school.
And it’s not just the children who benefit: in the survey, 90% of parents who walk to school with their children said they saw it as a way of spending quality time with their children; it also gave them the chance to see their own friends on the way.
Walking to school rather than being dropped off by car can also increase children’s independence and improve their road safety awareness, while regular exercise has been shown in studies to improve confidence, mental agility, and mental health and wellbeing (see our blog on Exercise and mental health).
Finally, it can save parents the cost of driving and improve the environment by reducing car emissions.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?
The UK website is at www.walktoschool.org.uk and there is further information at: www.livingstreets.org.uk/walk-with-us/walk-to-school