International Walk to School Day (Oct 7) is a great time to start.
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 an easy, inexpensive way to work exercise into kids’ days,” says Colleen Hill, manager of Heart Healthy Children and Youth at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
She points out that those footsteps count toward the 60 minutes of activity kids need daily to stay healthy. And there are other reasons too: Walking helps kids feel more connected to their community, teaches traffic skills, cuts down on gas emissions and reduces traffic around schools. Plus, it offers parents and kids an opportunity to catch up with one another’s lives.
But enough about the reasons: How do you actually make it happen – especially when there are real deadlines at play? In my family’s case, the kids catch a bus at a school that’s a 10-minute walk from home; we miss the bus and, well, it’s a whole other level of chaos.
“Start slow,” says Hill. “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 (Oct. 7) to introduce kids to the idea. Here are some other ways to help kids put their best foot forward:
Do a practice walk: Travel the route together on the weekend and time how long it takes. Consider padding it by five minutes to compensate for forgotten pencil cases.
Get a walking buddy: If your child’s school pal lives en route, consider picking her up on the way for company.
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.
Make it official: Take iCANwalk’s online pledge to boost your kids’ motivation. You’ll see the running tally of fellow pledge-makers and the collective reduction in greenhouses gases per year.
Set a goal: Have kids calculate the distance on Mapquest and record the amount they’ve travelled on a chart or map. Aim to walk the 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. When you reach your goal, consider a treat, such as an afternoon at the climbing gym or a skating party.
Get wheel: If your child would rather ride her 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 out with friends and family. You never know who you might inspire to put their health first.
If your family hoofs it to school, what are your tricks — and what has it meant to your family? Let us know in the comments below.