Active transportation – walking, wheeling, biking, in-line skating or skateboarding to get to and from places such as school, parks and shops – has long been known to be an important source of physical activity for children and youth confirms the 2013 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.
In fact, with only 5 per cent of five to 17 year-olds meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, active transportation presents a major opportunity for improving the health of Canadian children and youth. Did you know that if children walked for all trips less than one kilometre they would accumulate approximately 15 to 20 minutes of walking per trip and be well on their way to achieving the 60 minutes/day of physical activity they require for health benefits?
The good news is that active transportation can be easily incorporated into everyday life with little or no cost. We need to embrace our children’s enthusiasm for active transportation – research suggests that given the choice, most children would prefer to walk or cycle to school rather than take a bus or be driven by their parents. To prepare my youngest daughter for cycling to school (a round trip of only 5 km each day), I equipped her bike with a rack and basket (where she puts her basketball, backpack and lunch), and cycled the route with her a few times, teaching her how to cross as safely as possible at a major intersection she has to navigate. She loves the freedom of getting to and from school on her own, enjoys the extra exercise, and as she says: “it sure beats the bus!”
In addition to improving our overall physical health, active transportation can help improve fitness and heart health; increase academic achievement; provide social opportunities; reduce stress; promote quality sleep, and improve air quality. In fact, Dr. Philippe Chouinard, a family physician in Moncton, New Brunswick, recommends increased physical activity for most children, and often prescribes it as part of treatment for children and youth with anxiety, depression and sleep issues. “Helping today’s children become more active through play and active transportation is likely the best investment we can make in their health and just as importantly, their happiness. Most kids equate cycling, wheeling, blading or boarding to school as an extension of play — so let’s encourage them to combine this active fun with safe transportation whenever possible.”
Encourage your kids to bike, board or blade to school!