Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Active Transport

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (2010), the term active transport refers to any form of human-powered, non-motorized transportation. As it pertains to school-aged children and youth, active transport would mostly be referring to commuting to school and to daily activities using an active rather than a passive mode of transportation (such as being driven in a car). The focus of this article will be on school aged children and youth from kindergarten to the end of high school.


Passive transportation would include the use of a car or a motorized bicycle or scooter. Using public transportation can be better than driving a car because individuals must walk from the bus stop to their destination, therefore increasing their physical activity levels. Alternatively, some popular modes of active transportation for school-aged children that would commonly be used to get to school or after-school activities could include the following:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Biking
  • Skateboarding/Long Boarding
  • non-mechanized wheelchair use
  • non-mechanized scooters

The "Walking School Bus"

There is also the idea of the “walking school bus” where parents chaperone a group of children as they walk together along a designated route to their school, typically seen in elementary school (Paquette, 2007). This idea overcomes many of the barriers parents have towards active transport. First, walking with chaperones and multiple other children in a close group increases the safety of children on their way to their destination as compared to walking alone (Paquette, 2007). Alternatively, parents could drop their child off to the designated meeting spot close to the school to let their child join in on the walking bus therefore shortening the distance to school as well as allowing their child to exercise with the group. Lastly, it affords participants the chance to socialize on the way to school and the way home (Paquette, 2007). The walking school bus is a great way to get children moving to school and making active transport a habit rather than a chore. Other benefits of the walking school bus include environmental benefits, economical savings, reduced traffic congestion around schools, and improved community building (Paquette, 2007). It is also practical to walk because minimal extra equipment besides proper attire is needed to participate as opposed to cycling which requires both the special equipment and skills to participate.


Prior to the automobile era and the expansion of suburban developments in North America, the majority of school-aged children commuted to school using active transport modes, mainly walking or riding a bicycle (Heelan, Unruh, Combs, Donnelly, Sutton, & Abbey, 2013). From the 1970’s onwards, there was a considerable drop in the percentage of trips walked or biked by children, and a corresponding increase in automobile usage (Sirard & Slater, 2008). Large suburban neighborhoods increased the distance between homes and schools, thus making active transportation a less practical and safe commute for children. The increased reliance on passive transportation had a negative impact on children- the number of children achieving the recommended levels of physical activity decreased and a correlated increase in childhood obesity rates was seen (Sirard et al., 2008). In response to the decreased use of active transportation, Transport Canada took action and began to assign designated bike routes and improving safety in the late 1980’s (Transport Canada, 2011). However local infrastructure, land use patterns, and attitudes towards active transportation caused the majority of transportation to remain car-oriented. Active transport advocates recognized that many other factors and better infrastructure must be considered to create a significant shift in transport choices for school-aged children. Today’s active transport planning has become more sophisticated and involves partnerships between different stakeholders such as local governments, health authorities, school boards, transportation organizations, developers, cycling advocates, and the community at large (Transport Canada, 2011).

Current Statistics and Trends

  • Current research reports that 91% of Canadian children are not reaching the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day (Transport Canada, 2011).
  • Declining physical activity rates of children in car-dependent countries have been linked to an “obesity epidemic”: the risk of obesity goes up 6% for every hour spent in a car each day, whereas for every kilometer walked each day the risk of obesity goes down by 5% (Transport Canada, 2011).
  • In 2001, more than half of all children in Canada aged 5-17 relied solely on inactive modes of transportation in their commute to and from school. (Craig, Cameron, Russell, & Beaulieu, 2001).
  • The prevalence of walking in the greater Toronto Area as the primary mode of transportation to school decreased from 53% to 42% for children aged 11-13, and from 39% to 31% for children aged 14-15 between 1986 and 2001. (Wong, Faulkner, Buliung, & Irving, 2011)
  • Statistics from the study by Wong et al. (2011) also showed a shift from motorized modes of travel in the morning to active transport in the afternoon. In their data, 47% of elementary students used active transport to get home after school, but only 38% used active transport to get to school in the morning. This may be partially explained by parents’ schedules and resource availability.
  • The same study showed that distance to school has increased over the past four decades (Wong et al, 2011).
  • Obesity and physical inactivity in childhood is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases later in life, whereas physical activity is associated with improved fitness and physical, mental, and social health (Transport Canada, 2011).

Health Benefits

According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2015), the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for children ages 5-11 and youth ages 12-17 should be moderate to vigorously physically active for at least 60 minutes per day to achieve health benefits. Some of the important health benefits will be discussed

Increased Daily Physical Activity

Active transport is considered to be a major source of routine moderate intensity physical activity and is a great opportunity to increase ones daily physical activity levels (Cooper, Wedderkopp, Jago, Kristensen, Moller, Froberg, Page, Andersen, 2008). Children who use active transport are consistently found to have higher overall physical activity levels than children who use passive, motorized transport, regardless of age or gender (Faulkner, Buliung, Flora, & Fusco, 2009). Another benefit of increased daily physical activity is greater improvements in motor ability of those children who engage in regular physical activity compared to those who do not (Wrotniak, Epstein, Dorn, Jones, & Kondilis, 2006). It has been suggested that it is beneficial to encourage active transport at a young age because physical activity declines throughout teenage years and lifelong physical activity patterns are established in childhood (Faulkner et al., 2009).

Improved Cardiovascular Capacity

There is evidence of a positive association between active school transport and improved cardiorespiratory fitness (Lubans, Boreham, Kelly, & Foster, 2011). Walking is a very healthy way to exercise and build cardiovascular health because it utilizes large muscle groups in the legs and lower trunk for long periods of time (Morris & Hardman 1997). It has also been noted that “unsupervised, self-governed, walking programs can be effective in reducing heart rate [during physical activity]... which then raises the capability of the heart to respond to an increased demand for oxygen” (Morris et al., 1997). It is beneficial for children to have a strong cardiorespiratory fitness level to participate and excel in games or sports during or after school hours. Alternatively, a popular form of active transport is cycling. Cycling has been shown to provide additional benefits compared to walking and using passive transportation. These include higher aerobic power, greater isometric and dynamic muscle endurance, and improved flexibility Andersen, Lawlor, Cooper, Froberg & Anderssen, 2009), as well as significantly higher cardiorespiratory fitness (Cooper et al., 2008).

Increased Bone Density

Walking is an excellent weight bearing exercise, and can help improve bone density at any ages (Morris et al., 1997). According to CSEP (2015), children ages 5-11 and youth ages 12-17 should be aiming to participate in activities that strengthen muscle and bone. “Mechanical loading in weight-bearing exercise...helps to stimulate new bone formation and inhibits reabsorption” (Morris et al., 1997). Creating and maintaining higher bone density at a young age is crucial because peak bone density is created by the first 30 years of life and after it begins to decline (Ott, 1991). This reduces the chances of getting osteoporosis later in life, where bones become fragile and prone to fractures (Ozerlat, 2012).

Improved Social Health

There are two main ways participating in active transportation can improve ones social health- having friends join your commute and improving overall fitness to participate in other group activities and sports with more success. For example, having a walking bus can be very beneficial for the children because they have the time during the commute to socialize with the other children participating as well as the parent chaperones (Paquette, 2007). Even parent chaperones find that they get to know other parents in their neighborhood more after participating in the walking school bus and helps build a strong community (Paquette, 2007). If there is no walking bus available, participating in an active form of transport (like cycling, skateboarding, using a wheelchair etc.) with a partner provides a time for children and youth to interact with one another. Secondly, by improving cardiovascular health and forming a solid baseline fitness by participating in active transport regularly, children can feel confident in their abilities to then join sports teams or play active games with their peers. This is another way to join increase social opportunities which are critical for children and youth as they grow.

Enabling Factors

Research by Frank et al. (2014) at the University of British Columbia found that the distance between home and school had the strongest influence on whether children commuted actively or not. The same study noted that household vehicle ownership and parental perceptions of safety from traffic and strangers were also significant factors (Frank et al., 2014). Canadian studies have found that children living in urban areas with a shorter distance to school were more likely to actively commute to school (Wong et al., 2011). This supports the notions that high-density land use facilitates non-motorized travel modes, whereas low-density land use tends to encourage car-dependency. Additionally, a study by Wong et al. (2011) showed that elementary school children are more likely to practice active transport than high school students. It was suggested that this might be connected to elementary school students having a significantly shorter travel time. In summary, safety, vehicle ownership, city densities, and distance have a large impact on children and youth’s choice to participate regularly in active transport.

Practical Application

The vast majority of Canadian children do not get enough physical activity each day- this has important implications for both their short-term and long-term health. Active school transport should be encouraged because it gets children moving and can improve their cardiorespiratory fitness (Morris et al., 1997). However, since active transport is generally considered a moderate intensity exercise, it is important that active transport comes in addition to regular physical education classes and sporting opportunities. These will help children develop fundamental movement skills as well as fundamental sports skills. Furthermore, to increase rates of active transport for school and other areas of life requires collaboration and a collective effort from local governments, school boards, communities, and parents.

For Government

  • Create a walkable environment that reduces the distances children have to travel to schools and other areas of interest.
  • Dedicated and well maintained bike lanes that create a integrated path to key locations in the community such as recreation facilities, public buildings and schools
  • Improve safety: ensure speed limits and school signs are enforced, having crossing guards at major intersections around schools and recreational areas at busy times, maintain sidewalks (ice, branch removal, proper lighting)
  • Educate the community about available resources and encourage them to provide feedback to further improve community
  • Improve public transit so buses stop in accessible locations and in front of key public buildings to allow students to take transit more frequently

For School

  • Educate students and parents about the benefits of adopting a healthy lifestyle
  • Host events for families to get involved with such as “bike to school week”
  • Initiate walking school buses for families who live close together
  • Have a secure bike storage system for kids who want to bike to school
  • Map out safe walks to the school with estimated walk times for parents and their children to plan a walking strategy
  • Run a used bike program to help provide more bikes for children and parents who can not afford them
  • For physical education classes, try to make it a habit especially in high school to get students to wear active wear more often so *they are more compelled to participate in class and aren’t afraid to get sweaty

For Parents

  • Set a good example by walking or riding a bike with your child as much as possible
  • Educate your children about safety: wearing helmets when biking, looking both ways before crossing a street, rules of the road, who to call if they are in trouble and how to contact you
  • Make physical activity fun, reward your child for participating in physical activity to help make it a habit
  • Encourage other families and their children to join your family to increase the social aspect of the journey
  • See if other families are interested in doing a walking school bus together and create a schedule
  • Walk the path to school with your child so they become familiarized with the route and feel safe doing it alone or with their friends
  • When buying clothes for your child, opt for brighter reflective colors that make them more visible when walking or riding a bike as well as a good waterproof all-weather jacket so they are comfortable in as many weather conditions as possible


Andersen, L. B., Lawlor, D. A., Cooper, A. R., Froberg, K., & Anderssen, S. A. (2009). Physical fitness in relation to transport to school in adolescents: the danish youth and sports study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 19(3), 406-411. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2008.00803.x.

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2015). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Retrieved from:

Cooper, A., Wedderkopp, N., Jago, R., Kristensen, P., Moller, N., Froberg, K., Page, A., Andersen, L. (2008). Longitudinal associations of cycling to school with adolescent fitness. Preventive Medicine, 47(3), 324-328. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.06.009.

Craig, C.L., Cameron, C., Russell, S.J., & Beaulieu, A. (2001). Increasing physical activity: Building a supportive recreation and sport system. Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Retrieved from:

Faulkner, G. E. J., Buliung, R. N., Flora, P. K., & Fusco, C. (2009). Active school transport, physical activity levels and body weight of children and youth: a systematic review. Preventive Medicine, 48(1), 3-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.10.017.

Heelan, K., Unruh, S., Combs, J., Abbey, B., Sutton, S. & Donelly, J. (2008). Walking to School. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 79:6, 36-41. doi: 10.1080/07303084.2008.10598197.

Lubans, D. R., Boreham, C. A., Kelly, P. K., & Foster, C. E. (2011). The relationship between active travel to school and health-related fitness in children and adolescents: a systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8(5). doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-8-5

Morris, J. & Hardman, A. (1997). Walking to Health. Sports Med, 23, 5. doi: 0112-1642/97/00:J5-D306/S13.50/O 306-332.

Napier, M., Brown, B., Werner, C. & Gallimore, J. (2011). Walking to school: Community design and child and parent barriers. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 31, 45-51.doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.04.005.

Ott, S. (1991). Bone Density in Adolescents. The New England Journal of Medicine, 325: 1646-1647. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199112053252310.

Ozerlat, I. (2012). Jump, run, climb- childhood exercise improves bone strength. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 8, 8. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2012.105.

Paquette, K. (2012). Through Rain, Sleet, Ice, and Snow, the Walking School Bus Still Must Go! Childhood Education, 84:2, 75-78, doi: 10.1080/00094056.2008.10522977.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2010). What is active transportation? Retrieved from:

Sirard, J. R., & Slater, M. E. (2008). Walking and bicycling to school: A review. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2(5), 372. doi: 10.1177/1559827608320127.

Transport Canada. (2011). Active transportation in canada: a resource and planning guide. Retrieved from website:

Wong, B., Faulkner, G., Buliung, R., & Irving, H. (2011). Mode shifting in school travel mode: examining the prevalence and correlates of active school transport in Ontario, Canada. BioMed Central Public Health, 11(618). doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-618.

Wrotniak, B., Epstein, L., Dorn, J., Jones, K., & Kondilis, V. (2006). The Relationship Between Motor Proficiency and Physical Activity in Children. Pediatrics, 118(6), 1758-1765. doi: 10.1542/peds. 2006-0742.