The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates once said that "walking is man's best medicine."
Words to live by, really. And yet, a lot of us don't - especially in our culture of planes, trains and automobiles.
In fact, with each passing generation, we're walking less and literally driving our children to unhealthy habits.
According to a new report (see above video) from Active Healthy Kids Canada, this country gets a "D" when it comes to "active transportation" (ie: walking or biking). For overall physical activity, we get a "D" minus.
But here is perhaps the most troubling part - children today are walking and biking even less than their parents did when they were kids.
A recent survey found that 58 per cent of parents walked to school when they were kids, but only 28 per cent of their own kids are doing the same today.
"That's a reduction of 50 per cent in one generation. That's substantial by any estimate," said Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada.
Here's a few other findings:
- Only 25 to 35 per cent of Canadian kids walk or bike to and from school
- Young people aged 15 to 17 are walking less each day, dropping from 17 minutes (in 1992) to 11 minutes (in 2010)
- More children aged 5 to 17 are going to and from school by car, bus or train
- In 2000, the percentage of kids using "inactive" transportation was 51 per cent; by 2010, it was up to 62 per cent
Tremblay said, in some cases, kids live to far away from their school to walk or bike there on their own. But he also said there are plenty of examples where a lot of children are being driven to school when they could easily walk or bike.
"There are kids that live 25 kilometres from the school. They can't walk or bike. And so we get that," said Tremblay.
"But can those kids walk or bike to other things that are going on in their community? To their friend's house? To the baseball pitch, which might be a couple of kilometres down the road?
"This isn't just about to and from school... We're talking about any trips."
According to Tremblay, we've become so dependent on cars as a society, a lot people drive out of habit - even when they don't have to.
"It's not even part of our consciousness. We just hop into the car and it's not like we ever thought: 'Why didn't we walk there?' Because our frame of reference of distances to walk has reduced so much over time that we don't consider it a possibility.
"A kilometre, two kilometres, three kilometres, which are totally walkable [distances] and can be very enjoyable... it just doesn't cross our minds... and so we don't think of it for our kids, either."
If we did, the health benefits could be huge.
For example, if a child walked for every trip less than one kilometre away, it would translate, on average, to 2,238 additional steps each day. That's 15 to 20 minutes of walking, the report said.
And kids who walk or bike to school can get up to 45 minutes more exercise each day, compared to children travelling by car, train or bus.
Of course, many parents say time and safety are a couple of reasons they drive their kids around so much.
Kelly Murumets, president & CEO of ParticipAction, has a few ideas to get around that.
She suggests parents consider organizing a group walk or bicycle ride, where a volunteer adult or a few parents can go with the kids to school or a park.
"Kids are getting physical activity, they have social time, they're with other kids, they're safe because they're supervised, (and) some of the parents who do work are able to make their way to the office," Murumets said.
"The other great element of that is the parent is being a great role model. And we know that more active parents have more active kids."
And Murumets points out it's also a great way for parents to keep their kids active, without having to pay for organized sport.
As for overall physical activity, 84 per cent of three-to-four-year-olds met the guidelines of at least 180 minutes of exercise each day at any intensity.
The numbers are far more troubling for older kids.
For kids aged 5 to 11, only seven per cent met the guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. For kids aged 12 to 17, it was just four per cent.
Walking quickly, skating and bike riding are examples of moderate activities, while running, basketball and soccer are examples of vigorous activities.