Halloween's Secret Walking Benefits

Halloween's Secret Walking Benefits

When you think of all the great things that Halloween has to offer – trick-or-treating, haunted houses, jack-o’-lanterns and all that free candy – we bet you weren’t thinking it could possibly have any healthy connections? While it’s true those little witches and warlocks are likely devouring oodles of sweet treats, they are also getting a hearty dose of physical activity -- the “miracle drug” of healthy living!

By now you’ve probably heard people talking about getting 10,000 steps a day, but did you know that Canadian children and youth are not active enough? Not even 1 in 10 kids get enough physical activity (1). That means most of our country’s young people get less than 60 minutes a day of the physical activity that keeps them healthy (2).

But why? What is causing our children and youth to be less active than earlier generations? It’s probably a variety of factors that are to blame -including low levels of active transportation (walking or rolling) and insufficient opportunities for unstructured or “free” play (3).

So then, what does Halloween have to do with all of this? A few years ago, one of our ongoing research studies looked at the physical activity levels of early teenagers in downtown Vancouver. Teens and pre-teens wore pedometers that measured the number of steps they took each day for one week – one day happened to fall on Halloween. We compared the number of steps taken on Halloween with steps taken on regular school days. Surprisingly, it turns out that Vancouver teens were WAY more active on All Hallows’ Eve! Teens took approximately 3500 more steps on Halloween – or the equivalent of walking 2.5 km more than usual - almost all of which happened between 5 and 9 pm - that’s pretty impressive.

As grade 8’s and 9’s, some of them may have been maximizing their trick-or-treating years, or escorting their siblings door to door, and others may have been out enjoying the lively neighbourhood vibe. But at the end of the day, what matters is that they were out and about being active!

Our Halloween example illustrates how walking in our neighbourhoods provides an important source of physical activity for children and youth. Certainly there is a lot we can learn from Halloween, not the least of which is how creating vibrant neighbourhoods where our children and youth feel safe to roam freely is an important part of their independence (and physical activity). Halloween also encourages social interactions between community members who otherwise remain strangers for much of the year. How can we make this the norm and not just on Hallowe’en?

Got an idea for keeping youth walking year-round? How do you keep your kids active on a daily basis? Let us know in the comments below!

References

  1. Colley RC, Garriguet D, Janssen I, Craig CL, Clarke J, Tremblay MS. Physical activity of Canadian children and youth: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Rep 2011; 22.
  2. Participaction. Guidelines for family fitness - Being active for at least 60 minutes a day helps children be healthier and stronger. 2013.
  3. Active Healthy Kids Canada. Is Canada in the running? The Active Healthy Kids Canada 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth

About the authors:

Christine Voss and Amanda Frazer are part of a multi-disciplinary research group at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, UBC, that seeks to better understand the interplay between the built environment, physical activity and health in children and youth from the Metro Vancouver area. Christine Voss is a post-doctoral research fellow with the Faculty of Medicine at UBC. Amanda Frazer is the project coordinator of the Active Streets, Active People – Junior study.