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Creating healthy habits at a young age

To mark Walk to School Week 2022, Living Streets’ Tanya Braun blogs on the positive impacts a daily walk can have on children’s health, both physical and mental, as well as their academic performance.

18th May 2022

by Tanya Braun
Head of communications and digital, Living Streets

Walking is the easiest, cheapest, and most accessible form of physical activity and that’s why we think it’s so important to encourage children to do more of it.

Just half of primary school children walk to school in the UK today. This is compared with 70% in the 1970s, and despite most families living within two miles of their closest primary school.

One in five boys and one in six girls of primary school-age are classed as physically inactiveThis means they’re not undertaking the 60 minutes of physical activity a day that is recommended by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers and contributes to one in three children leaving primary school either overweight or obese - so finding easy, accessible ways for children to get more active is really important.

This Walk to School Week, Living Streets is working to encourage parents and children to swap the school run for a school walk, to reduce physical inactivity and improve health.

We know that walking is not only better for our children than being driven to school, but it also can be quality time spent together and can help to boost a child’s imagination and creativity before the school day begins.

Even a short, brisk walk of just 20 minutes to-and-from school contributes to the recommended 60 minutes a day of exercise and can have fantastic mental and physical health benefits.

This not only improves children’s health, but also that of the parents and carers that are walking with the child, too.

Just half of primary school children walk to school in the UK today. This is compared with 70% in the 1970s.

Walking helps to prevent long-term chronic health conditions such as certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and improves the management of existing conditions.

Walking has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing heart and lung conditions, including high blood pressure.

In fact, direct NHS savings from an increase in urban walking and cycling have been estimated at £17 billion over 20 years.

Supporting your children to be more physically active from a young age instils good lifelong habits, and increases the likelihood that they will continue to be physically active as adolescents and adults.

And walking is not only good for children’s bodies, but also for their mind and mood.

Fifteen per cent of children aged 10-15 years, demonstrate symptoms of mental ill health (ONS, 2018) - which is a worrying statistic.

But the potential mental health benefits of encouraging your children to walk to school from a young age are significant.

Walking stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin.

These trigger positive and happy feelings, helps improve mental wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety.

Over half of parents interviewed in 2016 said that their child’s mood always or sometimes improves after walking to school (OnePoll, 2016).

Regular walking and exercise can also help children fall asleep more quickly and achieve more quality rest.

And having an active lifestyle can also tackle more serious forms of mental health issues, including depression and social withdrawal.

Walking to school can additionally aid children’s productivity, supporting teachers and schools to achieve the best learning outcomes.

With research showing that children who walk to school arrive feeling more refreshed, alert and ready to learn - children’s behaviour and concentration can also improve as a result.

So if you have a child going to school this week, why not try walking every day and see the difference it can make to your lives?

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