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Mixing active and motorised transport to and from school could be a good option for helping adolescents stay active.
Research shows that adolescents taking the bus or being driven some of the way to school, and walking or cycling the rest, receive the same physical benefits as those who walk or cycle the whole way - and it is particularly true for girls.
These are the latest findings from the long-running Beats Study (Built Environments and Active Transport to School) team, led by Associate Professor Sandy Mandic, of the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences.
The researchers analysed the data gathered through having 314 Dunedin teenagers wear activity monitors and report their mode of transport to school for a week.
The findings have been published this week in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.
Prof Mandic said adolescents were becoming becoming less physically active and spending increasing amounts of time in sedentary activities - up to 9.5 hours per day.
"Active transport - walking or cycling - to and from school is a potential source of regular physical activity in this age group,'' she said.
"However, the majority of New Zealand adolescents rely on motorised transport for their journeys to and from school, which further limits their opportunities for physical activity.''
Prof Mandic described these latest findings as "fascinating and in some ways very encouraging''.
"Even adolescents who live too far away to walk or cycle to school could look for a way to incorporate active transport as part of their school commute.''
This could be as simple as getting out of the car or bus and walking 10 to 15 minutes on the way to and from school.
"Creating safe drop-off and pick-up points away from the school gate and along a safe route for walking and cycling to school is one potential intervention for promoting active school travel.''
Other interventions could include school-based walking and cycling groups and/or cycle skills training for school, and encouraging adolescents to use public transport.
The findings were particularly important, as distance to school was one of the major determinants of active transport in adolescents, Prof Mandic said.
"Our results have important implications for encouraging active transport even when it is not feasible due to distance, given that distance from home to school likely increases when transitioning from primary to secondary schools, and New Zealand has policies where adolescents do not have to enrol in the closest school,'' she said.