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Why Getting Your Children to Walk To School is Good For Their Back and Brain (and Good For Your Sanity!)

Sunshine Coast chiropractor, Dr Paul Lanthois is calling on parents to rethink their school drop off and pick up routines for their children out of fears that it could be predisposing children to a future of potentially serious postural and neurological problems.

Dr Paul Lanthois is asking parents to stop driving their children to school and to start encouraging them to walk or ride to school. Secondly, he wants children to start carrying their school backpacks on their back and steer away from using bags that can be wheeled along instead of carried. Dr Lanthois insists that the benefits of doing this will have wide-ranging neurological and health benefits that most parents would not be aware of and depriving them of these benefits is “weakening children with kindness”.

“The most common cause of poor posture is a lack of strength in the spinal stabilizing muscles causing us to hunch forward,” states Dr Lanthois ” and I’m seeing it in epidemic proportions as people become more inactive and concerningly it is becoming a common finding in children. Getting children to carry their bags as they walk to school would go a long way to correcting these potentially damaging weaknesses!”

Dr Lanthois checks that his daughter Erika has her school backpack on correctly

Dr Lanthois checks that his daughter Erika has her school backpack on correctly

Dr Lanthois points out that poor posture predisposes children to experience all sorts of pains and discomfort from back and neck pains to growing pains and headaches. These pains can be experienced as a child or it can be laying the foundation for the development of chronic pain as an adult. What is even more concerning to Dr Lanthois is the neurological research highlighting the affect poor posture has on the brain.

He explains that with a good upright posture, you use the muscles in the back of your neck, spine and legs which send information that stimulates a part of your brain called the frontal lobe. This part of the frontal lobe does three important things:

1) it relaxes the muscles that hunch you forward helping you be more upright and flexible

2) it relaxes your stress response helping you to be less anxious 

3) it calms the behavioural impulses leading to better self- control

“That’s why you often feel more relaxed after going for a walk,” says Dr Lanthois. “It’s even more important for children because this part of the brain is still developing and we currently have a lot of concerns regarding increased stress and anxiety in our children. So let’s ensure that we fire up the stress-reducing parts of our children’s brain before and after school by getting them to walk.”

Dr Lanthois asserts that a tendency to greater muscle tightness, pain, stress, anxiety and poor behaviour and concentration in our children can be the unintended consequence of our children losing the strength of their spinal postural muscles through inactivity. He points out that a child carrying a school backpack on their back each day is a perfect opportunity for them to develop strength in these underused spinal muscles.

“What chance does a child have to develop strength in their back if you don’t give the spinal muscles a chance to develop strength by loading it?”

He recommends that children use both straps of the backpack and have the heaviest weights packed closer to the body. They should carry the bag high on their back with their shoulders back. If they slouch forward it means that the bag is too heavy for them and that the spinal muscles are too weak and need strengthening. Reduce the load slightly until they can stand upright and carry the rest of the contents by hand in a bag. He acknowledges that it may feel a bit uncomfortable at first and your kids will complain but it is just a symptom of your child developing muscular strength just like you do after your first gym session.

He also recommends that parents should find a place about 1km away from the school where they can pick up and drop off their children (perhaps a coffee shop?). Many community organisations have volunteers who supervise your children walking to and from school. If that is not available organise a small group of parents to do their pick up and drop off from the same spot and get the children to walk in a group to school. Parents will probably discover that they can save a lot of time that would normally be wasted sitting in the dreaded school gridlock.

Having been a chiropractor for nearly 30 years and have written 7 books on the subject, Dr Lanthois has repeatedly seen the massive impact small changes in lifestyle can make on people’s health and wellbeing. And when such small changes can improve children’s wellbeing and education this father of three is compelled to let parents know.

“If you get your child to walk just 1 km to and from school each day while carrying their backpack by the end of the year your child’s brain and body would have benefitted from 400km of strength-enhancing and calm-inducing walking exercise,” explains Dr Lanthois.  “Think of the potential benefits to your child’s body and mind by having a strong, upright posture and a strong, calm mind. Also, don’t underestimate the impact this can make to a parent’s sanity.”








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