Hectic schedules can easily put your family’s health on the backburner. Kids need at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity to stay heart healthy. The good news is that exercise doesn’t have to come all at once.
“Walking to school is an easy, inexpensive way to work exercise into kids’ days,” says Colleen Hill, manager of Heart Healthy Children and Youth at Heart & Stroke.
She points out those footsteps count toward the 60 minutes of activity children need daily to stay healthy. There are plenty of other reasons too: Walking helps kids feel more connected to their community, it teaches traffic skills, cuts down on gas emissions and reduces traffic around schools. Plus, walking to school offers parents and kids an opportunity to catch up with one another’s lives.
But how do you actually make it happen?
“Start slow,” says Colleen. “It doesn’t have to be every day to have an impact. Once a week or once a month is still a good start.”
She recommends using International Walk to School Day on Oct. 4 to introduce kids to the idea. Here are some other ways to encourage your children to put their best foot forward:
Do a practice walk: Travel the route together on the weekend and time how long it takes. Consider adding five minutes to allow for forgotten pencil cases.
Get a walking buddy: If your child’s school pal lives en route, consider picking them up along the way.
Drop and walk: If you don’t have time for the entire route, park a few blocks from the school and walk. It will add some activity and minimize traffic around the school.
Set a goal: Have kids calculate the distance on Google Maps and record the amount they’ve travelled. Aim for a distance equivalent to the length of Ontario’s Welland Canal (43 km), the Kananaskis River (74 km) in Alberta, or the distance to Grandma’s house. Once they’ve reached their goal, consider a fun reward such as an afternoon at the climbing gym or a skating party.
Get riding: If your child would rather ride a bike, go for it, as long as she’s a competent cyclist.
Try a group effort: Get to know other families in the neighbourhood. Take turns hosting the morning drop-off and walking the kids to school. Divvying up the walking commitment with a few other parents can make it easier to manage.
Enlist the school: Talk to your principal and parent council about encouraging active transportation. Active & Safe Routes to School offers lots of ideas and resources for schools, such as Walk and Wheel Wednesdays and a School Travel Planning Toolkit.
Be flexible: You don’t want it to feel like punishment If the weather’s bad or someone is really tired, it’s OK to drive. If walking to and from school just isn’t possible for your family, don’t beat yourself up over it. You can find other ways to get that missed activity. Maybe it works better to go for walks after dinner or on the weekend.
Share your success!
Take a snapshot of your morning walk and share it with friends and family. You never know who you might inspire to put their health first.