Why every child should walk or wheel to school every day

Canadian children are less active than they should be – only 9% get the 60 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity they need each day.

With Canadian children receiving a D- for overall physical activity, we need to be thinking of ways to help children move more. The new 24-hour movement guidelines conclude that every minute of every day matters. While this may seem daunting at first, it can also offer solutions—it means that every part of your child’s day holds an opportunity to fit in some physical activity.

Because just 1 in 4 kids currently use active transportation, how kids get to and from school emerges as an obvious area for improvement.

A FEW OVERLOOKED MINUTES

Active transportation, which could include walking, cycling, scootering or wheeling, is an easy way to introduce more physical activity into every kid’s life. Imagine the difference an hour of active commuting versus an hour of sedentary time could have on a child over the course of a school year. The minutes add up quickly.

Take the Netherlands (A) and Zimbabwe (A-) for example. Both countries, though very different, received high grades for active transportation in the Global Physical Activity Matrix for Children and Youth, whereas Canada received a D.

THERE’S A LESSON TO BE LEARNED HERE

What’s unique about these other countries is that active transportation is a way of life for these kids – it is accepted and expected that they walk or bike to school each day, sometimes up to 5km per trip! More importantly, they actually enjoy being active.

Taru Manyanga, PhD student and contributor to Zimbabwe’s physical activity report card, notes that while active transportation is a necessity for many children in Zimbabwe, it’s also an accepted value. We should strive to create the same acceptance in Canada.  

A COMMON CHALLENGE

While over 80% of Zimbabwean children currently use active transportation to travel to and from school, this trend may be on the decline. “I think our biggest and most formidable challenge in Zimbabwe is the rapidity of urbanization and the sudden influx of mechanization and with it, an increase in inactivity among children and youth,” states Manyanga. Sounds like a familiar challenge.

WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE CHANGE

The good news is that active transportation doesn’t need to be risky or complicated. Kids can do it in groups and parents can help map out safe routes to school. Dressing for the weather is important. Sunscreen and hats for the warmer days, mitts and scarves for the chilly ones.

Ever heard of a walking school bus? Why not consider introducing one into your school district? This form of school-based transportation is growing in popularity in large urban centres, including Toronto and Ottawa.

While we can’t fight urbanization and the advancement of technology, what we can do is create an environment that encourages kids to actively get around. Start using your car less yourself, by walking or cycling to stores and appointments whenever possible.

Talk to other parents about the problem. It’s easier for kids to walk when their friends do too. That’s how cultural norms start to shift.

Some other practical ways to get involved could include urging your municipal government to lower speed limits, put in speed bumps, and designate drop-off areas in school zones to decrease traffic congestion and increase safety.

Rather than offering your child a ride, encourage your kids to get into the habit of walking or biking to the mall, park, and their friends’ houses. Instead of carrying your child or using a stroller, try to walk to school and childcare as often as possible. It’s all about changing expectations and forming new habits.

Making active transportation the norm won’t be easy, but it’s part of the solution to the inactivity crisis we’re facing today. If we are to have any hope of moving Canada’s physical activity grade from D- to A, we must make every effort to encourage our kids to actively move from point A to B.