Get a few steps in and spend time with your kids to celebrate International Walk to School Day on Oct. 2.

According to the non-profit organization Safe Routes to School, the day’s effort is aimed at increasing physical activity among children, reducing traffic and benefiting the environment with reduced vehicle emissions or with increasing safe pedestrian routes. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that almost half of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school in 1969; that number is less than 15% 50 years later.

To promote physical activity for youth, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has introduced the “Walking School Bus” program, which organizes parent and volunteer efforts to help children get to school safely and let them move their bodies before the learning starts.

“Children show up at school and behave better, and learn better, when they’ve had some physical activity — like walking to school.” said Suzanne Duda, president of the organization Blue Zones, whose is mission informed and inspired by the world’s longest-lived cultures. Blue Zones organization help people live longer and better lives by improving their environment.

The Walking School Bus is a flexible program that allows two or more children to walk a set route to school under adult supervision for just eight weeks or the entire school year if desired. Erica Reyes, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, is a developer of the “Walking School Bus” program.

“Walking to school offers an opportunity for school-aged children to increase their levels of daily physical activity, and that is important as a community effort to reduce the number of children that are overweight as that can have health implications for them later in life,” Reyes said.

Research in community health encourages physical activity like walking, as it has numerous benefits for youth and teenagers — such as bone and muscle strength and learning or behavioral aspects.

“Walking is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to stay healthy,” Reyes said.

Another way to help form a sustained habit of walking/activity is by participating in any local Extension Walk Across Texas programs. Walk Across Texas is a free, eight-week program designed to help Texans establish the habit of regular physical activity.

For more information, please contact the Harrison County Extension Office at (903) 935-8414.

Louraiseal McDonald is the county agent for family and community health in Harrison County.