Helping kids get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day is among the goals of a pilot program that promotes the benefits of “active travel” like walking and cycling.

The Markham Active School Travel program also seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create safer school zones and support healthier communities.

According to Ontario Active School Travel, just 25 per cent of five- to 17-year-olds in Canada use active modes of transportation and many children who could walk, wheel or take the school bus are being driven. That’s a concern because just nine per cent are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, which is linked to lower body mass index and improved cardiovascular health. Physical activity also supports healthy brain development, which can lead to improved learning and academic outcomes. Mental health benefits include reduced stress, depression and anxiety, and increased happiness.

Increased car use makes school zones congested, polluted and less safe, particularly during bell times. Ontario Active School Travel points to a recent study that observed dangerous driver behaviours at 88 per cent of participating schools. Traffic is a growing burden on school staff, it notes.

Active travel results in fewer vehicle emissions, supporting Ontario’s greenhouse gas reduction target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Reducing the number of children being driven to school improves air quality and reduces associated risks of lung and cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution can also impact cognitive development. Children are particularly vulnerable, experiencing negative impacts at lower levels of exposure than adults.

The York Region District School Board (YRDSB), York Catholic District School Board, City of Markham, York Region and Green communities Canada launched the Markham Active School Travel program at John McCrae Public School. Photo courtesy of the YRDSB.

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