What can Safe Routes to School do for your family?
Walking and biking to school are easy ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
Children today are less active than preceding generations and as a result, rates of obesity and obesity-related health problems are increasing. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise per day for children and adolescents, the majority of which should be moderate aerobic activity such as walking or biking. Following these guidelines can help improve both physical health – by helping to control weight and strengthening bones and muscles – and mental health, improving mood and mental acuity. Exercise can also lead to long-term health benefits later in life.
Studies show that children who walk to school arrive more alert, eager, and ready to learn.
Mounting evidence shows that physical exercise improves brain function as well as emotional and social development. Walking is an effective way to incorporate physical activity into the school day. While research directly linking active transportation to and from school with academic performance is only beginning to be explored, a preliminary study comparing a simulated ride to school with a simulated walk found that youth who engaged in moderate exercise before a cognitive test exhibited lower anxiety levels than those remaining physically idle prior to the same test. Schools provide environments in which children learn and develop both academically and personally and students should be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for the challenges involved. A healthy body allows us to sustain energy through the day and sleep better at night, thereby strengthening our cognitive processes. Additionally, teachers report lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness in children who walk or bike to school.
Meg Cassedy-Blum, a middle school teacher in Bronx, NY says “kids who walk to school are more on time and show less signs of stress than kids who bus. They seem more attentive and on average seem more social.”
Sally Wilma, a teacher at White Center Heights Elementary in White Center, WA says those of her students who walk are “more punctual” and have “fewer absences” than students who either take the bus or are driven.
Fewer cars on the road means less pollution and safer, less congested streets.
The more we walk, the less we drive, and the safer and healthier we are. Automobiles emit harmful chemicals that can cause respiratory illness. When children walk or bike to school fewer cars drive through school zones, reducing their exposure to exhaust and other harmful pollutants. Children are especially vulnerable to airborne toxins as they inhale more air per body weight than adults. We are also more susceptible to the negative effects of these toxins when we are young because of the increased rate at which our bodies and brains are developing.
Fewer cars on the road can also mean fewer accidents. While encouraging our children to walk or bike to school we also need to encourage efforts that make these active transportation options safe, including sidewalks and infrastructure, greenery, and education.
Streets are safer when more people are walking and biking on them.
Research suggests that increasing pedestrian activity decreases both accidents and crime, two common concerns for those considering active transportation. These outcomes are attributed to the idea of “safety in numbers.” As the number of cars on the road is reduced and replaced by pedestrians and bicyclists, the relative increase of active transportation makes walkers and bikers more apparent and easier to see. In California, Safe Routes to School projects reduced accidents by up to 49% by increasing pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Adding foot traffic to a neighborhood can also deter crime by “adding eyes” to the street and making sidewalks and paths less secluded.
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