A new study published in the August 10, 2010 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that children who walked to school had reduced stress when taking tests, were more alert students and may have a lower chance of developing heart disease as they grow older.
Study on Walking to School and Reduced Heart Disease Risk
James Roemmich, associated professor at the University of Buffalo, New York, and a team of researchers studied the effects of children walking to school versus riding the bus to school. A group of 20 boys and 20 girls ages 10 to 14 and all Caucasian were tested on mornings at the Behavioral Medicine Research Laboratory. Half of the children walked the equivalent of one mile on a treadmill, each wearing a book bag containing 10 percent of their weight. The other half of the children sat in chairs and watched a 10 minute video that simulated a bus ride. After a 20 minute break, all of the children took a Stroop test.
The children who walked averaged an increased heart rate of 3 beats per minute during the test while the children who sat averaged an increase of 11 beats per minute. Systolic blood pressure was three time higher and stress about taking the test was twice as high in the children who sat as compared to the children who walked.
Significance of the Study on Children Walking and Heart Disease Risk
It has been established that the risk of heart disease begins in childhood and the researchers are looking for ways to lower or slow down that risk. Fluctuating heart rates due to stress and fluctuating blood pressure are all factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease. It is known that exercise decreases stress and also helps the body have a healthier at-rest blood pressure. By finding ways to lower the risk of heart disease in childhood, the researchers hope it will also lower the number of people suffering from heart disease in the future.
However, it is not known yet how long the effects of the walk to school in the morning last, so Roemmich believes that parents and educators should encourage exercise at intervals throughout the day. Having periods of physical activity throughout the day should keep stress levels down, keep children focused on schoolwork and lower the risk of rising blood pressure.
Kids Walk-to-School Program
The Minnesota Department of Health’s Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Unit promotes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) initiative to get kids to walk to school in order to improve their health. According to the “Kids Walk-to-School Program”, not only does walking to school prevent heart disease later in life but it also promotes a healthier weight, makes children more alert in school, builds confidence and encourages children to be more active. The Kids Walk-to-School Program is much like carpooling, only much more active. Parents of school children set up a schedule to take turns walking children to and from school. To learn more about how to set up such a program in your area, follow this link to the CDC’s booklet.
Center for Disease Control “Kids Walk to School Initiative” Retrieved August 12, 2010.
MN Dept. of Health Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Unit Promotes “Kids Walk to School Guide” Retrieved August 12, 2010.
ScienceDaily.com “Walking to School Could Reduce Stress Reactivity in Children, May Curb Risk of Heart Disease” Retrieved August 12, 2010.