By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, U of I ACES News and Public Affairs
URBANA, Illinois — A globally recognized observance, Oct. 8 is International Walk to School Day, said University of Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educator Mekenzie Riley.
“Ensuring that their children are happy and healthy is at the forefront of all parents’ minds,” Riley said. “Staying physically active and able is a large part of that. For parents, becoming involved in their child’s activity can ramp up your activity level as well. You’ll kill two birds with one stone. As you encourage your children’s health, you’ll be getting some low-impact, high-result cardio exercise. It’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever heard one!”
Regular exercise is a major factor in reducing or preventing obesity and obesity-related chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, she said.
“The USDA suggests that adults get at least 2-1/2 hours each week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 1-1/4 hours each week of vigorous aerobic physical activity,” she noted. “Unfortunately, less than half of the American adult population currently gets this recommended amount of physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
The good news is that by simply adding daily walks to your routine — like walking to the bus stop or to school with your child, you can begin to achieve these recommended activity levels, she said.
“Walking is a great form of exercise for many reasons,” she added. “One of the many advantages about walking for fitness is that you can go at your own pace. It’s a simple way to begin a physical activity program. Whether you are a beginner who is casually strolling, or at an intermediate fitness level, looking to increase the intensity of your exercise with hand weights and inclines, or beginning to run at vigorous pace, walking is a customizable activity.”
According to Riley, walking burns calories and improves heart health by improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and increasing muscle strength. In addition, walking burns calories, increases bone strength, and reduces stress, which has a positive impact on weight and body composition.
“The most important health benefit of walking is that it increases life expectancy, so the more you walk, the longer you’ll live!” Riley said.
The best news is that the government is supporting these small ways to get more exercise in daily activity, such as walking to school. In August 2005, federal legislation established a National Safe Routes to School Program that provided $612 million toward developing new, safe ways for children to get to and from school by foot or bike, she said.
“For the health of you and your child, walk to school on Oct. 8 and let that be the first day of a new tradition,” she said. “What you start doing today might improve your life tomorrow.”
Posted Oct. 3, 2014