The Wellness Integration program at Fit4Kids was one of our first and continues to be a favorite in the schools served by our organization. The basic premise is that we have certified teachers whose job it is to develop and teach active lesson plans which integrate physical activity into an SOL curriculum. We’ve seen these active lessons work over the years because the activity increases focus, stimulates the brain, and improves student attitudes, with the added side-effect of increasing student performance and memory on the subject. Rather than providing students with content, then instruction, educators report that combining the two promotes academic success for their students. The Richmond City Safe Routes to School program draws on that same philosophy. Rather than using motorized transportation to get someplace, then exercise, let’s make the transportation mode be the exercise!

Just about everyone could benefit from increased activity. Increasing activity has the obvious benefit of helping to control weight, but it can also reduce the likelihood of many common health conditions and diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, depression, anxiety, and arthritis. We know that exercise can also boost mood, increase energy, and promote better sleep. The biggest bonus of increased activity is that you can have fun and be social, or if you prefer, have some alone time.  Walking, running, biking, and riding a skateboard or scooter as transportation are great ways to pepper more activity into your day. You might even be able to add enough activity to skip the gym!

At first, this can be a daunting default change to make, if you’re used to hopping in the car to grab something from the store, and drop the kids off at school.* Having some equipment on hand can make executing the goal of integrating active transportation a little easier. Backpacks, trollies, and panniers can help you carry your stuff, while a baby carrier, stroller (a big kid hauler or an affordable umbrella), child bike seat, or cargo bike can make bringing the whole family along a little easier. Any of these things can be found on Craigslist, at second-hand stores, garage sales, or through online swap groups.  The extra time spent traveling by foot or on two wheels sets a great example for your kids, and lets you have a little more special time together, with the benefit of improving family relations. You’ll also reduce traffic and emissions in your neighborhood, and save money on gas!

Conversely, turning your commute into a workout is also a great way to integrate activity. If you have a jogging stroller, you might be able to convince your student to hop in for a ride. If they’re too big, your child can also ride their bike alongside you as you run. If your commute has treacherous thoroughfares, or if you live too far, driving to a more optimal location can make it more manageable.

We’re fortunate in Virginia to have a relatively comfortable climate for choosing active transportation throughout most of the year. We’re also very grateful to have local organizations like Bike Walk RVA, advocating for improved multimodal infrastructure, progressing the normalization of active transportation for people of all ages and abilities.

*Keep in mind that while we are safe and cozy in our cars, the most common cause of death in children is an unintentional injury, and a most common cause of unintentional injury is car crashes.