Blog September 18, 2012
Moving over motors: The active school commute
By Melissa Lem
This month families are embracing that familiar fall flurry of books, homework and hopes that kids will stay healthy and motivated in the classroom. However, one of the best ways you can give your child’s wellbeing a boost starts before the morning bell rings—on the trip to school.
A 2011 review from the US showed that youth who walked or biked to school enjoyed significantly healthier weight and cardiorespiratory capacity. Active commuters also watched less television, were less apt to smoke and more likely to meet physical activity guidelines in a 2008 German study. Another 2006 report from Denmark highlighted the striking benefits of cycling; fitness scores were up to 15 percent higher in children and adolescents who pedalled to class compared to their walking or motorized peers. Even better, research also indicates that kids who stay on the go develop higher self-esteem, happier moods and better grades. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Despite these clear boons, a 2010 survey revealed that only one third of urban youth in Canada get moving on the way to school each day. Within just one generation active commuting rates have dropped over 50 percent, accompanied by declining physical activity and rising obesity. What’s more, chauffeur parents are responsible for up to 25 percent of morning rush hour traffic—worsening congestion, lowering air quality and making the city less livable for all of us.
So set a good example and choose to cycle or walk to work yourself. Help make your neighbourhood ideal for young travellers by supporting bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly green spaces. Consider starting a walking school bus or bicycle train program in your community. Together, let’s move our children’s health to the head of the class this school year!
A member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Melissa Lem is a Toronto family doctor who also works in rural and remote communities across Canada.