Getting ready for a new school year is an exciting time for families. New school supplies, lunch boxes, backpacks and the anticipation of meeting new teachers and seeing old friends are all part of the back-to-school preparation. After a summer of healthy routines and fitness, you may want to consider extending these healthy practices into the school year by encouraging your children to walk or ride their bikes to school.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has seen a decrease in the number of children who are physically active and an increase in the number of children who are overweight. Walking or biking to school supports physical activity as an essential part of a child's daily routine. Not only will children get that necessary exercise every day, but they may also realize the following potential benefits:
- Weight and blood pressure control
- Bone, muscle and joint health and maintenance
- Reduction in the risk of diabetes
- Improved psychological welfare
- Better academic performance
Walking or biking to school may also contribute to the developmental health of children. Having access to their neighborhoods and other children outside of school can offer opportunities for independence and decision-making. Children may benefit from learning fundamental pedestrian and bicycling skills as walkers or cyclists.
You may be asking several questions at this point. How do I know if my neighborhood provides the safety my child needs to walk or bike to school? How do I determine if my child is ready to handle walking or biking to school? You can find the answers to these questions and many more by visiting Safe Routes to School, a website supported by parents, schools, community leaders and local, state and federal government agencies to improve the health and well-being of children through walking and biking to school. The site provides a number of tools and resources to assist parents in making this important health and fitness decision for their children. You can take a look at Education: Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop, a guide intended to help parents and caregivers match their guidance and expectations with their children's abilities. You can also review the Education: Tip Sheet, available in English and Spanish, offering helpful guidelines for educating parents, teachers and children on safe ways to walk and bike to school.
If you are interested in starting a Safe Routes to School program, launch an event or promote walking and biking efforts in your community, the Safe Routes to School website has the resources to support local promotion and planning efforts. Walking and biking programs not only enhance the health of children, they also ease traffic congestion near schools and improve air quality and community members' overall quality of life - a healthy win for everyone. Influencing the environment inspires activity, which fits with the overall objective to change the way we think about our health and fitness so we can improve our overall well-being and that of our children and community, as well.
Increased physical activity and obesity reduction are two of the focal points of the Healthy Base Initiative, part of Operation Live Well, which supports the National Prevention Strategy for improving Americans' health and well-being through a prevention-oriented approach. For more information on making healthy choices, visit the Healthy Base Initiative page on Military OneSource or call 800-342-9647, to speak with a Military OneSource Health and Wellness coach.