A 1-mile walk to school in the morning may help reduce stress reactivity in children, according to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2010; 42 , 1609–16). “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 senior investigator James Roemmich, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and of exercise and nutrition science at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. “We know that physical activity has a protective effect on the development of cardiovascular disease, and one way it may be doing so is by reducing stress reactivity.”
In the study, 40 children between the ages of 10 and 14 were randomly assigned to two groups. One group performed a 1-mile treadmill walk, with each child wearing a book bag weighing 10% of his or her body weight, while watching images from a real walk through a suburban neighborhood, ending at a school. The other group sat in chairs and simulated a ride to school while watching the same neighborhood images. Twenty minutes later, all children took a test. On average, during the test the children who walked had less of an increase in heart rate, systolic blood pressure and perceived stress.
“If [reduced stress reactivity] only lasts a couple of hours, then it would be most beneficial if [children] walked or biked to school, then had recess during school, as well as a break at lunch, so they had opportunities for physical activity throughout the day. This would put them in a constantly protective state against stressors that they’re incurring during the school day, whether [they are] taking an exam, trying to fit in with peers or speaking in front of classmates,” added Roemmich.