The psychological benefits of walking to school

As the school year starts again many parents will be considering whether to drive their child to school or allow them to walk or cycle.

In this article, Chartered Psychologist Dr Ruth Lowry explains the benefits of walking or cycling to school.

Previous studies have shown that children who walk or cycle to school tend to be more active than children who are driven, however the overall rates of active travel have dropped since the 1980s.

Dr Ruth Lowry explained: “In recent times parental attitudes regarding safety have increased the likelihood of a child being driven to school. It’s unfortunate as walking or cycling to school provide a convenient way to incorporate a physical activity into a child’s daily routine and can be the first step towards greater independence.”

There are a number of initiatives in the UK run by schools which provide greater opportunities for walking. The Walking Bus allows children to be accompanied to school by other children in their neighbourhood whilst under the supervision of adult volunteers. 

Ruth said: “Whilst this is to be encouraged it could prevent children from engaging in spontaneous play along their journey or walking at a faster pace from that set by a larger group.”

Other recent pilot projects conducted by Intelligent Health have worked with schools in London, Reading and Vancouver to create a tracking route of safe walking routes to and from local schools. Children are given smart cards that activate when installed units on the streets are passed.

Ruth concluded “This allows the child greater freedom to choose their route to school, who they travel with and the energy they expend in getting there. Schemes that enable children to walk to school unsupervised may help boost confidence and give them a tentative first taste of personal responsibility.

Whilst the jury is still out in terms of how effective active commuting to school is at helping children’s fitness, it is clear that encouraging children to be less sedentary and more independent is a step in the right direction. “