We are less than a week into November, and it seems everyone is feeling the imminence of winter. The early darkness is closing in, never mind the fog, the swirls of falling leaves, the perpetual muddy puddles that we dare not step in, even in wellies, for fear they are much deeper than they look. So you might be forgiven for having already forgotten October, when we had lovely days of Autumn sunshine. Days which you hopefully enjoyed by walking outside as much as possible.
There are a multitude of benefits of walking that always apply: physical health, mental health, social interaction, reducing your environmental impact, getting closer to your community. But there were other reasons to celebrate walking in October.
Namely, it was International Walk to School Month. Or, here in the UK, Walk to School 3½ Weeks, as the schools were shut for half term the last week of the month. Still, depending on inset closures, there were 15-17 days to see your offspring put their feet and those expensive shoes to good use every morning and afternoon.
I did. I walk my four-year-old to her reception class most days, with her baby brother in the pushchair. Not all days, admittedly, as I occasionally drive part-way if I am due elsewhere or it is pouring, and there were a couple of daddy-daughter drop-off specials (also on foot). Living Streets asked what we love most about the walk to school. I said the challenge of meeting my daughter’s demands for made-up fairy stories at any opportunity: brain wake-up call! I also enjoy being able to chat with other mums going the same direction, stop off at more than one shop without having to return to or move the car, racking up steps on my FitBit, and making sure the little one gets an airing. No stale babies!
Then, as if the month-long celebration of walking needed a climax, my Twitter feed told me there was a massive #WalkingSummit in the USA on the 30th of October and the US Surgeon General was marketing its #StepItUp campaign with an excellent video. It made me proud to see that the simple act of walking is on the agenda in the country of my birth, a country that is too well-known for its love affair with the automobile and its love of sitting on its collective backside.
So now we are in November, do we know the outcomes of all this eventful excitement?
We know that even if calculated by only the longest segment of a given journey, walking is the second most common way of getting to and from places in the UK. Living Streets reports that only 46% of children walk to school now, whereas 70% did a generation ago. However, from what I could tell, we don’t know if more children walked to school last month than did in September. We don’t know if more will walk this month and in future following participation last month. We don’t even have consistent annual reporting of usual mode of travel to school since the indicator was made non-mandatory under the last Parliament’s reduction of red tape.
So maybe the events have had no impact? Yet walking is consistently under-appreciated and under-reported. Therefore, there is no such thing as over-emphasising the benefits of walking to us and our society. The more events and promotions like the ones last month, the better. We should simply monitor more as well, so we can better justify spending more money on promotion in the future. And more money on infrastructure, for the more we can design places for pedestrians, the better. Especially for child pedestrians.
Children need even more physical activity to stay healthy than adults do. NHS guidelines recommend 60 minutes a day for school-age children, compared to 150 minutes a week for adults. In these darkening days, they are ever less likely to get the activity they need without walking to and from school. So, if you can think back to before the clocks changed, were you walking in October? And will you keep walking, even through the winter?