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The Daily Mile

How our internationally-recognised research confirms the health benefits of The Daily Mile, and how you can introduce it to your school.

Collaborating with

Dr Josie Booth at the University of Edinburgh

Dr Trish Gorely at the University of the Highlands and Islands

University of Stirling contributors

Overview

The Daily Mile was founded in February 2012 by Elaine Wyllie, the then headteacher of St Ninians Primary School in Stirling, to improve the fitness of her pupils. The initiative involves children taking a 15-minute break from class – in addition to normal intervals and physical education lessons – to either run, jog or walk around their school grounds.

Following the scheme’s success, it has since spread across Scotland, the UK and the world, with 5000+ schools in more than 40 countries adopting the approach.

The challenge

While anecdotal evidence suggested that The Daily Mile was having a positive impact on the physical health and cognitive – or learning – ability of pupils, no quantitative research was available to support the reported benefits of the scheme. The absence of such studies meant that policymakers and schools were implementing the scheme without a comprehensive understanding of its benefits.

In addition, the lack of research-based evidence into The Daily Mile’s implementation meant that it was difficult for schools to successfully adopt the initiative, as they did not know what had worked well elsewhere, or the challenges faced.

The solution

The team launched three projects to:

  • investigate the physiological benefits of long-term Daily Mile participation
  • study the cognitive benefits of acute Daily Mile participation
  • consider how to successfully implement the initiative

The physiological study – published in BMC Medicine – worked with 391 schoolchildren in the Stirling area to measure the impact of The Daily Mile. It found that the initiative:

  • improved the fitness of primary school children by five per cent
  • reduce the amount of fat on primary school children by four per cent.
  • increase physical activity levels of primary school children by 15 per cent
  • reduce sedentary behaviour of primary school children by five per cent

The second project was a collaboration with the BBC’s Terrific Scientific initiative and involved 7,500 primary school pupils from across the UK. The study compared pupils’ scores on online cognitive tests following different types of exercise: near exhaustive exercise (the bleep test); self-paced exercise (like the Daily Mile); and, a control activity (at rest). The study found that pupils’ best responses came after physical activity that was set at their own pace. A 15-minute break from class can improve a child’s mood, attention and memory - enhancing their ability to learn.

The implementation research, published in PLOS ONE, involved interviews with staff at four schools in the Stirling area and The Daily Mile’s founder, Elaine Wyllie. It attributed the scheme’s success to its simplicity, flexibility and adaptability and identified its key components as:

  • allowing the children to run, jog or walk
  • flexible delivery that supports teacher autonomy
  • adaptability that suits the specific primary school context
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