Family: health cycle

Children At The Superhero Fundraising Day 2014 which took place on the last day of The Big Pedal. See PA Feature FAMILY Family Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Sustrans. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FAMILY Family Column.
Children At The Superhero Fundraising Day 2014 which took place on the last day of The Big Pedal. See PA Feature FAMILY Family Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Sustrans. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FAMILY Family Column.

We all know that exercise is good for us - yet many people, both young and old, either can’t be bothered or don’t find the time to do it.

But as nearly all children have to get to school every weekday, and as their parents often accompany them, the journey is an ideal opportunity for the whole family to get some vital exercise.

And that’s why The Big Pedal 2015 is urging children, parents and teachers to either cycle or scoot to school for at least 10 days between March 2 and 20.

The annual event, which is run by the cycling and walking charity Sustrans, is supported by former swimmer and Olympic medallist Sharron Davies, whose eight-year-old son Finley cycles or scoots to school every day.

She says: “Parents are often bombarded with advice on keeping their children healthy and while they’re juggling family life with work life, the potential of the school run can easily be overlooked.

“When children live near to school, changing the journey can transform their health by incorporating a little exercise into their daily routines - before the school bell rings.”

As well as reducing traffic around schools, the principal idea behind the initiative is that it will encourage pupils and parents to lead healthier lives - more than half of UK adults don’t meet the guidelines for daily physical activity (at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking) every week, and an even smaller percentage of children aged five-15 (21% of boys and 16% of girls) reach the guideline levels for young people of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Schools taking part in The Big Pedal will record journeys made either by the whole school or individual classes, with those recording the most journeys over 10 days winning prizes including school visits from scooter and mountain bike display teams, and action-adventure trips.

The Big Pedal attracted 1,200 schools last year, and teachers, parents, siblings and pupils made more than a million journeys to school on their bikes and scooters. The last day of the competition, March 20, is also Superhero Fundraising Day, where children dress as superheroes and donate £1 to Sustrans.

A survey of teachers at schools that took part last year found that pupils continued to cycle and scoot to three quarters of the participating schools after the event, and 39% said pupils who took part were noticeably happier throughout the day.

In addition, 29% said the event reduced traffic congestion around the school.

Davies, founder of www.parents4sports.com, adds: “I believe that an active journey to school should become part of a family’s morning routine, just like brushing your teeth.

“Give cycling and scooting to school a try.”

Sustrans wants a safer school run, and is asking the Government to dedicate funding to the issue, commit to lower traffic speeds, and transform local walking and cycling routes.

Melissa Henry of Sustrans says: “Children are often desperate to walk or cycle to school, and usually the people who make the decision as to how they travel are their parents, so we want to engage them to show that often cycling or scooting journeys to school are very short, and there’s frequently a quiet short cut that children can travel along.

“The Big Pedal is about making this cycling or scooting journey accessible to people who may never have thought about it before - often people just get in the car to take the kids to school because it’s a habit.”

She points out that although most journeys to school, and particularly to primary schools, are no more than a 10-minute cycle or scoot away, often parents fear their children will have to make the same journey they have to travel by car, along busy roads.

“My experience is that there’s often a quieter route, as schools are usually at the heart of communities and there are many ways to get to them,” says Henry.

“We’re trying to make cycling or scooting to school the norm. Children are just not active enough, yet they like the independence and the freedom of cycling or scooting to school, and they like making healthier journeys.

“We’re encouraging parents to find out more about different routes to school, be curious about how they can make the journey differently, then get their children to walk or scoot to school - and do it themselves too if possible.

“If we can build healthy travel into children’s lives from a really early age, the evidence shows that it becomes part of what they do - it helps make you fit for life.”

:: To register for The Big Pedal visit www.bigpedal.org.uk