Full disclosure: I drove my kids to school this morning.
With that said, I will tell you that I can probably count on my hand the number of times that I have driven my girls the three-tenths of a mile to their school this academic year. We're not perfect by any means, but we have all made a concentrated effort this year to walk this distance whenever possible. My eldest daughter even stresses that she likes to start and end her school day with a nice walk to get her brain going.
And the research backs her up on this. According to the results of a recent Danish study, kids who bike or walk to school have better concentration throughout the school day than their peers who drove or used public transportation. The study was part of "Mass Experiment 2012," a Danish project that evaluated the connection between concentration, diet and exercise. Researchers looked at nearly 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19 and found that those who cycled or walked to school performed significantly better on tasks demanding concentration (ie: solving puzzles) at school than their peers who were driven to school. What's more, the effects of the enhanced concentration lasted for up to four hours after they took a seat at their desks.
Niels Egelund of Aarhus University in Denmark, who conducted the research, said in an interview that he was surprised by how beneficial exercise was for students — even more so than diet. "The results showed that having breakfast and lunch has an impact, but not very much compared to having exercised," Egelund said. "As a third-grade pupil, if you exercise and bike to school, your ability to concentrate increases to the equivalent of someone half a year further in their studies," he added.
This research only confirms previous studies that kids who walk or bike to school do better on tests than those who drive or take a bus. Still, the national numbers for walking and biking to school are low — just 13 percent in 2009 according to Safe Routes to School compared to 50 percent in 1969.
Isn't it ironic that we as parents spend so much time, money, and effort shuttling our kids to various extracurricular activities each day to give them exercise for their brains and bodies when we could probably skip all of that and simply help them walk or bike to school with greater benefit?
Related on MNN: Is walking a form of activism?