As a Grand Rapids chiropractor I am well-aware of the toll that lack of exercise and excess weight takes on the musculoskeletal system over time. I see adverse effects such as wear and tear on knee and hip joints and shifts in the skeletal frame, especially the back, and weak muscle structure in many of my patients. If you have been reading my blogs, then you already know that I am a tireless advocate for the extraordinary health benefits of good nutrition and exercise. I have noted in my years of practice that many good habits, such as healthy nutrition and daily exercise, start early in a person’s life. And, of course, the same is true for bad habits, such as eating processed food, junk food, and too much food in general, as well as not getting enough exercise. Many children today are developing bad habits quickly, and it seems to me that there is not enough adult encouragement to change them.
I don’t know about you, but as a kid I was not only encouraged to eat my vegetables, such eating was mandatory if I wanted to be excused from the table. And, as far as exercise went, I walked to school or road my bike whenever the weather permitted. And, I wasn’t the only one. Did you know that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of children walked or biked to school? And, that percentage increased greatly the closer the children lived to school. In fact, 87 percent of kids living within one mile walked or biked to school! But, not these days. According to Safe Routes to School (SRTS) (a network of nonprofits, government agencies, and schools supporting a movement to encourage kids to walk to school) fewer than 15 percent of children today walk or bike to school!
The ramifications of this shift are that kids today are less active, less independent, and less healthy. In addition, many children are overweight or obese. Could walking to school make such a difference? Yes, according to one recent study that found that children ages 10 to 13 who walked to school daily were 80 per cent less likely to be obese than those who rode to school.
Are children today lazier or just plain spoiled? Do they sleep in more than we did as kids and start out for school too late to walk? Not necessarily. The main reason cited for this lack of simple exercise was safety. Not all neighborhoods have designated bike routes or sidewalks. Walking to school can be dangerous where there are no sidewalks and, in addition, many parents encourage their children to ride their bikes on sidewalks because they feel they are safer than riding with traffic. Social environment was another factor cited as a major concern to parents. But, where these concerns do not exist, it is important for parents to encourage their children to walk to school or ride a bike. Healthy childhood habits more often than not turn into healthy adult habits that, in turn, are beneficial to the entire body, from healthy organ function to a strong musculoskeletal system. (But, check the size and weight of those backpacks!)
To read more about safe routes to school, go to: saferoutespartnership.org