Walking to School Gives Kids Daylong Benefit

Researchers Say It Affects Overall Physical Activity of Adolescents

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 16, 2005 -- Adolescents who walk to school may be setting the pace for increased physical activity throughout the day.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say how a child gets to and from school has a broader impact on children. It affects their overall level of physical activity, write Leslie Alexander and colleagues in BMJ Online.

The researchers' goal was to measure moderate to vigorous physical activity among 92 pupils aged 13-14. Participants in the study were from four schools in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Students were divided into three groups: those who traveled to and from school by car, bus or train; those who walked both ways; and those who walked one way. Each student was asked to wear a pedometer throughout the day.

Students who walked to and from school accumulated the most minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout the day. They were followed by those walking one way.

Those who walked both ways were far more likely to experience moderate to vigorous levels of exercise throughout the course of a day than those traveling to school by car, bus or train.

Adolescents vs. Younger Kids

In all, 87% of students going to school by car, bus, or train accumulated an average of 60 or more minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on weekdays. That contrasted with 90% of those who walked one way and 100% of those who walked both ways.

Similar results have been reported for 10-year-olds. Among 5-year-olds, the mode of travel to school did not significantly affect overall physical activity, researchers found.

"Our findings suggest that walking to school may be more effective for older children," Alexander says in a news release.

"In conclusion, we feel that understanding these differences would enhance health promoting school and transportation strategies," she says.

The Importance of Getting Physical

More than a third of students in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity, according to the CDC.

Children and adolescents should routinely participate in physical activity, including play at home, in school, and throughout the community, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics in its policy for the prevention of pediatric overweight and obesity. For them, just as for adults, regular physical activity offers numerous health benefits, including:

  • Reducing excess weight
  • Increasing muscle strength and tone
  • Improving overall fitness
  • Improving bone density (through weight-bearing physical activities)
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Improving self-esteem

Set a Good Example

There are a number of ways you can encourage your children to be more physically active, according to the CDC. They include:

  • Set a positive example. Lead an active lifestyle yourself. Make physical activity part of your family's daily routine by designating time for family walks or playing active games together.
  • Provide opportunities for children to be active by playing with them. Give them active toys and equipment, and take them to places where they can be active.
  • Offer positive reinforcement when they participate in physical activities. Encourage new activities.
  • Make physical activity fun. Encourage structured or nonstructured activities. They could include team sports, individual sports, and/or recreational activities such as running, walking, skating, bicycling, swimming, playground activities, and free-time play.
  • Make sure the activity is age-appropriate. To ensure safety, provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads, and knee pads.
  • Find a convenient place where they can be active on a regular basis.
  • Limit the time they can watch TV or play video games to no more than two hours a day. Instead, encourage activities that they can do by themselves or with family members, such as walking, playing tag, and dancing.