Readers’ Question: how do long commutes to school and back (30 mins or more) affect active boys, and long-term effects on their learning, family life and physical health? How do parents deal with long commutes with kids in the car, their own time management and energy levels, and if people have chosen a neighborhood school over a more desirable but far away school. As we consider school options for our soon to be Kindergartner, the issue of long commutes and its implications is becoming a significant one.
These days we’re all squeezed for time, and for many of us, commutes seems to be getting longer. One study reports that 3.5 million Americans spend more than three hours a day commuting to and from work. It’s not only adults who are affected. Children have long commutes to and from school, and it may be causing problems.
Spending hours on a bus or in a car, stuck in traffic, rushing to school, then going from school to various activities, no doubt raises stress levels in many children. Beyond the travel itself, long commutes eat into valuable time to socialize, get homework done, and engage in play activities that balance out an otherwise academic-heavy day.
Children who live close to school and can safely bike or walk get more exercise. One study showed it can add as much as 24 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise. That goes a long way toward meeting the minimum one-hour per day of recommended physical exercise children need. Studies also suggest that kids who walk or bike to school are less likely to become obese (i.e., they have a lower body mass index) and have better cardiovascular health.
The fix? If you can, walk or bike to school. If you have concerns about sidewalks and bike paths to ensure safety, contact your local officials. Many cities and towns across the country are actively improving ways to encourage people to walk and bike more in their neighborhoods.
To encourage kids, it’s more fun when a small group can go together. Have adults accompany younger kids. Schools have reading clubs, why not ask your school to start a bike and walking club – with points that kids can tally and use to monitor their distance over each week and month. Provide incentives for reaching certain goals and for staying in these types of health-fostering programs.
At home, you can help reverse the stressful effects of long daily commutes piled onto hours of sitting at school. Get kids outside for a few minutes right after they arrive home, as well as after homework. Consider taking a short walk before dinner. Try to strike more of a balance between your indoor-living (sitting, working, screen time) and outdoor-living (movement, sports, recreation). Exposure to natural settings, even in brief 10-15 minute bursts, has been shown to help kids focus better once inside. It also will improve their sleep and help them maintain a more balanced mood. Why not join them? This helps us feel better too.
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