Despite walking needing no equipment, no skill or facility, and it being the more accessible and acceptable to less active people (Brannan et al. 2019), physical activity (PA) levels in the UK are not improving. Indeed, the national guidelines for PA, which state that adults should complete 150 minutes of PA per week and 5-16 years olds, 60 minutes per day, continue to have no impact. Furthermore, the easy access to fast food, reducing rates of free or structured play, a 90% reduction in play radius and increased electronic device usage, obesity in young people in increasing.
Indeed, at age 5, 1 in 4 young people are overweight or obese and this figure worsens by the end of primary school (age 11) when the rate increases to 1 in 3 young people. These health risks, due to lack of PA, is estimated to cost the UK government at least £7.6 billion each year (Public Health England, 2014). Furthermore, such issues are having an impact on the emotional as well as physical wellbeing of our young people.
Through the Childhood Obesity Strategy, the Department for Health recommends that the daily 60 minutes of PA for children should include 30 minutes at home and 30 minutes during school hours. However, less than half of the children in England are achieving this target. Schools and families should do more to help young people achieve this physical activity target. Here is one intervention that is hoping to impact people’s perceptions of what is achievable:
October is International Walk to School Month where schools are asked to encourage their pupils and parents to leave the car and walk to school instead. There are many benefits to walking to school such as:
- Being more ready to work when pupils arrive at school after exercise (increased concentration)
- Developing social skills by walking with friends
- Better state of mental health
- Increasing ‘street’ and ‘traffic awareness’ in young people
- Helping the environment with less cars on the road
Over a longer period of time, Flint et al. (2014), found that higher rates of active travel can be linked to reduced risks of diabetes, stress and obesity.
This is not a simple solution for everyone as it is recognised that the propensity to walk to school is higher in those families who have high social-economic status as well as greater deprivation, do not own a car, have short travel distances and live in perceived safe neighbourhoods (Brainard et al., 2019). It is also identified that families are more likely to choose this method of travel during the warmer and drier months, however, young bodies should complete 60 minutes of PA everyday regardless of the time season or weather.
Those parents who find walking too much of a challenge within the demands of their daily routine should seek smaller changes, such as parking the car further away from the school gates, leaving earlier than normal or allowing pupils to walk with other families. Wilson, Cark & Gilliland (2018) identified that parents and pupils’ perceived barriers to walking school include distance to travel, levels of bullying, being safe to walk with friends and having ‘too much stuff to carry’. However, it was also discovered that parents and their children’s perceptions differed, so more conversations should be encouraged to agree realistic strategies.
These simple lifestyle changes, if done habitually, can have long-term effects such as reducing the risks of obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and mental health issues. Furthermore, a bout of exercise such as this can increase blood flow around the body, taking more oxygen to the brain and increasing levels of concentration, creativity and memory, which could lead to better academic attainment. It is of utmost importance that school-age pupils develop the behaviours of walking to school as normal behaviour, otherwise, active travel will decline consistently as children grow older (Brainard et al., 2019).
Therefore, please support and encourage the young people you know and local schools to discuss and develop active travel options for their families for a brighter future for all.
An additional, proven intervention and incentive to encourage more movement like this is Leeds Beckett University’s 30:30 Wristband Challenge.
- Brainard, J., Cooke, R., Lane, K., & Salter, C. (2019) Age, sex and other correlates with active travel walking and cycling in England: Analysis of responses to the Active Lives Survey 2016/17. Preventive Medicine, (123) pp. 225-231
- Brannan, M.G.T., Foster, C.E., Timpson, C.M., Clarke, N., Sunyer, E., Amlani, A. & Murphy, M.H. (2019) Active 10 - A new approach to increase physical activity in inactive people in England. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 62, pp 135-139
- Flint, E., Cummins, S. & Sacker, A. (2014) Association between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom. British Medicine, 349, g4887
- NHS (2019) Exercise for children and young people [online]. London: Great Ormand Street Hospital. Available from: <https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/medical-information/general-health-advice/leading-active-lifestyle/exercise-children-and-young-people> [Accessed 1st October 2019]
- Public Health England (2014) Everybody Active Every Day. An evidence-based approach to physical activity. London, Public Health England.
- Wilson, K., Clark, A.F. & Gilliland, J.A. (2018) Understanding children and parent perceived barriers influencing children’s active school travel. BMC Public Health, (18), 1053
- www.designedtomove.org (2012) Designed to Move: a physical activity action agenda. Beaverton, Nike Inc