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“When I was your age, I walked uphill to school … both ways!”

Sound familiar?

Now parents might say, “I used to have to stand up to change the TV channel.” It doesn’t pack the same punch. But all kidding aside, my generation and my parents’ generation had to walk to school, rain or shine or snowstorm. A friend of mine’s grandmother told stories about walking to school in the North Dakota blizzards, holding onto two of her twelve siblings because her little brother would get lost in the snow drifts. (They never lost him for long … or so she said.)

Times have changed. They’ve gotten easier for many. Though most of our children won’t know what it means to walk through blizzard-like conditions to get to a schoolhouse, our grandparents can’t fathom how many obstacles children do have to face. The idea for International Walk to School Day, a day in which over 40 countries now participate, is to create year-round safe routes for kids to walk, bike, run, scoot, trike, get to school while enjoying the outdoors. This is incredibly important.

Walking and biking is a way to connect communities. Creating safe places for kids to be outside, safe routes for kids to follow, can change community culture. Moreover, getting outside is healthier for our kids – rain or shine, in the wind and snow!

So, it’s time to participate, get schools and local politicians involved, and get outside and get healthy. Research shows that only 10% of children spend time outside each day. Yikes! Aside from building a safe, positive community for our children, being outside is a way to keep our kids healthier, inside-out, as well. Here’s why:

  1. Being outside helps kids maintain a healthy weight: When kids play outside, they run, play, burn calories, and are more likely to be a healthy weight. We don’t need our kids to compete in the Iron Man. We just need them to be healthy. So, get your family to track miles. Have a family goal to do something healthy when the goal is reached like:
    1. Go ice skating at Rockefeller Center.
    2. Take a blast from the past and check out your local Roller Derby team. Get inspired to rock ‘n roll!
    3. Other things like snowshoeing and visiting the zoo are great ways to celebrate a mileage count.
  2. Being outside helps kids build a strong immune system: Two pieces to a healthy immune system are maintaining a healthy weight and exercise. Moreover, playing outside gets kids in contact with germs and bacteria on a regular basis – boosting those immune systems.
  3. Being outside builds kids’ imaginations: Where else will our children defeat a dragon, create a swamp monster, all the while jumping to avoid pits of bubbling lava?
  4. Being connected disconnects us. TV and computer-time make us fat and sad. The evidence is overwhelming. Research has shown that the metabolic rate of a child watching television is significantly lower than during rest – like taking a nap, sitting in a chair looking outside etc.  And here are some scary statistics from Nielsen polls:
    1. Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
    2. Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
    3. Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5
    4. Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
  1. Being outside helps kids with problem-solving skills: Stand back, Mom. Allowing kids to enter the park dynamic is going to build their problem-solving skills – something that cannot be done sitting in front of a computer screen. Whether they need to decide who’s “it” for tag, or figure out how to avoid the lava pits, kids playing in parks are constantly working on solving problems. And our world sorely needs lots of problem solvers.
  2. Get your daily dose of vitamin D: Vitamin D – the all-so-critical vitamin we only can get from the sun – is key to stabilizing moods, boosting energy and memory in people. We should get 15 minutes every day!

Safe communities are key to being outside. Grassroots movements like International Walk to School Day are good places to join movements that can have a community and city impact. Talk to your schools about what they’re doing to promote safe routes for kids. And … get moving!