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Walking to School May Build Healthy Physical Activity Habits

Sept. 21, 2005 -- Children who walk to school are more active throughout the day than their classmates who travel to school by car or bus.

A new study shows children who walk to school each day engage in higher levels of physical activity each day with only a small portion of that increased activity attributable to the journey itself.

Researchers say the findings suggest that walking to school may encourage healthy exercise habits and support walk-to-school programs as a way to increase physical activity among children.

Currently only about 10% of U.S. schoolchildren aged 5 to 15 walk to school.

Walking to School Promotes Physical Activity

In the study, researchers in Denmark followed 332 schoolchildren who wore accelerometers that recorded their physical activity minute-by-minute and compared the physical activity levels of children who walked to school, rode a bike, and traveled to school by car or bus.

The results showed that both boys and girls who walked to school had higher daily physical activity levels than those who traveled to school by car or bus.

Overall, children who rode their bikes to school recorded slightly more activity than those who traveled by car, but the difference was not significant. However, researchers say accelerometers tend to underestimate physical activity while riding on a bicycle.

Researchers found boys who rode a bike or walked to school were significantly more active than those who traveled by car, but the same did not hold true for girls.

In girls, walking but not cycling to school was associated with higher daily levels of physical activity.

Walk to School Difficult for Some Children

Researchers say some U.S. school systems are testing walk-to-school programs as a means to increase physical activity and reduce the risk of obesity among children. But they say poor road and sidewalk infrastructure can often make the walk to school treacherous for children.

They say busing policies that are designed to enhance school integration may also have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of children who can safely walk to school.

The results appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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