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Striding out to school; Walking to school each day can be great exercise, but how can you persuade your children it's a good idea? Kirstie McCrum finds out as part of October's International Walk to School Month.

Byline: Kirstie McCrum

GETTING out of bed in the morning is hard enough for some schoolchildren, but what if you were telling your little ones to pull on their winter coats for a brisk walk to school in the chilly air after breakfast? Jen Ford from Wenvoe does just that with her 10-year-old daughter, but she says it's no struggle to get Chloe on her way every day.

"I walk Chloe to the childminder's, where I leave her while I go to work and then she walks to school with the childminder 45 minutes later. We also walk home together four days a week," she says.

Jen is a teacher at Gwenfo Primary School where Chloe is currently a pupil and she says that the best part of every day is that they walk together.

"I asked her what she liked about the walk and she says that she thinks it's good because she knows it's about being fit and she likes being outside, but she also said it's a time to talk.

"I think that's great, because it's where we really chat. We talk about how the day went, that kind of thing, and I wouldn't do that if I was in the car because I would be concentrating on driving." October is International Walk to School Month, and Living Streets, the national charity that stands up for pedestrians, is trying to get parents and children moving like Jen and Chloe. Getting children to walk to lessons is a massive step in the fight against childhood obesity, says the charity.

Living Streets' Chief Executive Tony Armstrong, says: "Walking to school regularly is a fantastic way to help children reach the recommended daily 60 minutes of physical activity.

It's also a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your children and enjoy the benefit of a short blast of fresh air in the morning.

"The evidence for the health benefits of walking is overwhelming and who would not want to help to secure a healthy future for their children? International Walk to School Month is an opportunity to give it a go and encourage children to set healthy habits for the future."

Jen agrees and says that she's aware that it's her job as a parent to make sure her daughters - Chloe and her two sisters Rebecca, who is 17 and Hannah, 15 - get all the exercise they can to augment what they do in school.

"In primary school we do two hours of PE a week which usually would be one hour indoor and one hour outdoor. We also do a programme called Five A Day where we do five minutes exercise every day, so they follow dance routines and that's really good for fitness. I've got the reception class and they love it. It's about making it fun. But primary school is different, because I've got two older children in high school and there's not as much activity there.

"My older daughters seem to do quite a variety of different sports and they seem to enjoy it. They've got this 5x60 programme running in high schools and I know one of my daughters did a lot of cheerleading at lunchtime through that, so that was something different that caught her imagination. My children swim as well, they're all in a swimming squad outside of school," she adds.

As a parent, Jen admits that the days of children playing outside wane as they grow older, but that the family still makes the effort to get out and get some exercise together.

"The girls would have played outside when they were younger, in the garden there's a trampoline and they spend a lot of time on that. Obviously the older two have grown out of going to the park, but we did a lot of that when they were younger and we walk a lot. It's good to get out for a walk with the promise of a coffee at the end or an ice cream - a bit of bribery, but it works."

Walking to school can help to reduceachild's risk of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and numerous other obesity-related conditions. One in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, putting them at a higher risk of potentially life-threatening conditions in their 30 and 40s, says Living Streets. The charity's research also shows less than 50% of children in the UK walk to school, despite the mounting evidence of the health risks of sedentary behaviour.

More than 40 countries take part in International Walk to School Month in October which aims to encourage children to be more active. Teachers report that children are more alert and attentive in class if they've walked.

Although Chloe loves walking to school, Jen says that for parents who have more bother getting their children moving, there are ways and means.

"Chloe doesn't mind walking to school, even in the rain. If I need to take the car because I have too much to carry, she would grumble, so I've never worried about it, but with my teacher hat on I'd tell parents who do have trouble to see what they can find, look for things on the way to school, that sort of thing. Look for numbers or pick up leaves - try something to distract them from the actual walking, or playing I spy is a good one.

"It's just having the time to talk, if you're talking you're not really thinking about what you're doing."

| Living Streets' Walk to School campaign helps more than 1.9 million children get walking every year. Find out how you can get involved at www.walktoschool.org.uk

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| Jen Ford and her daughter Chloe aged 10 - who walk to school as part of a healthy lifestyle PICTURE: Patrick Olner
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 10, 2012
Words:968
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