Walking to School Reduces Later Cardiovascular Disease Risk

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Due to an effort over fifty years ago to desegregate schools, today, many children in the US must be transported to school using motorized vehicles (cars, school buses). However, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo, if more children walked to school each day, risk factors for later cardiovascular disease such as stress and blood pressure could be reduced.

Walking to School Improves Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Senior investigator James Roemmich and graduate students Maya Lambiase and Heather Barry tested 20 girls and 20 boys, aged 10 to 14, in a behavioral research laboratory. Half of the children took a simulated ride to school while the remainder did a one-mile walk on a treadmill at a self-directed pace carrying a book bag. In both cases, the children watched a slide show of images of a suburban neighborhood on a screen.

After the simulations, both groups of children rested for 20 minutes and then took the Stroop test in which they were asked to identify the color of a color name that was printed in a different color – for example, the word blue was written in green ink. The test was conducted to evaluate stress reactivity levels.

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The children who “rode” to school had a three times greater increase in systolic blood pressure and their heart rates increased by 11 beats per minute, compared to 3 bpm for the children who “walked” to school. The riders also perceived stress at a level of twice that of the walkers.

This reduction in stress reactivity could prevent factors that lead to cardiovascular disease later in life, said the researchers. Changes in heart rate and blood pressure due to stress is associated with the beginnings of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis in children and adolescents.

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"The cardiovascular disease process begins in childhood, so if we can find some way of stopping or slowing that process, that would provide an important health benefit," said Roemmich, an associate professor of pediatrics and exercise and nutrition science, in a news release.

This year, as part of the International Walk to School Month in October, many schools will participate in “Walk to School Day” on October 6th. The focus of the day is to support community efforts to increase the number of children who walk or bike to school safely. For resources to promote Walk to School Day at your school, visit www.walktoschool.org.

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