Walking to school used to be a regular form of exercise for primary school children and a great way to keep them fit. Yet, according to a study by the University of Westminster, only 25% of primary school pupils travel home alone, compared with 86% in 1971 and 76% in Germany today.
It's not surprising therefore that obesity rates have increased in the same time, as fewer children and adults take regular exercise and more of us are opting for the convenience of driving to work and school.
May is National Walking Month, and this campaign aims to raise awareness of the benefits of this simple exercise and encourage more people to walk to their school or workplace. There are many good reasons to incorporating walking into your daily routine, and one of the biggest has to be to boost your overall health and wellbeing.
But why are so many children now being driven to school in the morning instead of walking?
The media plays a big part in publicising scare stories about children who were kidnapped or molested on their way home from school. While these things can happen, they are often amplified on the news and can frighten parents into imagining the worst-case scenarios. In 2010, NSPCC statistics showed that 56 children were killed at the 'hands of another person'. While every one of these deaths is tragic, events like these are still incredibly rare.
Tip: Allow your children to walk by themselves, but stay in touch with them via mobile phone and contact them regularly if you're worried.
If the school is some distance from the home, parents may feel they don't have the time to walk with their child to school and back, while being reluctant to let the child walk alone. There have been stories in the news recently that suggest that, due to a shortage of primary places, a growing number of children have to attend a school that is a long way from where they live. In the past, most primary age children lived within a mile of their school, making it far easier to walk.
Tip: If you only live within a mile of your child's school, encourage your child to walk, either alone or with you. Try to make time for this as the exercise will benefit both of you!
The number of cars on our roads is increasing, with over 35 million road licensed vehicles in Great Britain today. Parents are understandably concerned for their children's safety, and may feel their child is not old enough to understand road safety.
Tip: Encourage your children to learn the Green Cross Code, and put this into practice each time you are out walking with them.
Many parents are feeling strapped for time and find it easier to drop their children off at school every day when they're travelling to work. This also ensures the children arrive safely without getting into any trouble. While it's good that parents are being so caring, this can hinder a child's ability to assess risks and learn to deal with them appropriately. These are key life skills that children can only develop through being given independence and learning to do things on their own.
Tip: Try to avoid driving your child to school every day, or drive them one way and walk with them the other. Encourage your child to take charge and explain how to cross the road and walk safely, as this will boost their independence and make you feel confident that they can handle the risks when walking alone.
Walking is an excellent way to keep fit and ideally we should be averaging 10,000 steps a day if we want to stay healthy. According to the NHS, regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illness like heart disease, asthma, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancers. For all of these reasons, walking should be encouraged from a young age, so it becomes a lifelong activity.