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Experts identify the key to The Daily Mile’s success

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The Daily Mile initiative has enjoyed worldwide success thanks to its simplicity, flexibility and adaptability, according to new research led by the University of Stirling.

Experts – including scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and the Highlands and Islands – studied the implementation of the scheme, founded in Stirling in 2012.

It comes just months after research led by the same team confirmed that The Daily Mile – which involves children taking a 15-minute break from class to do physical activity – improves fitness, body composition and activity levels in participants.

Dr Gemma Ryde, Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health in Sport at Stirling, led the latest study – and believes it provides a blueprint for schools looking to introduce the scheme. The findings of both studies are featured in a new ‘How to / Why to’ guide, to be distributed to schools.

“This is the first study to explore why The Daily Mile might have been so successfully implemented,” Dr Ryde explained. “Our research suggests that this success can be attributed to the simple core intervention components – allowing the children to walk, jog or run; flexible delivery that supports teacher autonomy; and adaptability that suits the specific primary school context.

“Other factors relating to how The Daily Mile was developed, trialled and rolled out might also have contributed towards its successful implementation.”

Dr Ryde worked with Stirling colleagues Dr Colin Moran, Dr Naomi Brooks and Ross Chesham on the project, as well as Dr Josie Booth, of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education, and Dr Trish Gorely, of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The team conducted interviews at four primary schools in Scotland with staff who had a significant role in implementing The Daily Mile. Two schools were implementing the initiative successfully, with the other two finding the process more challenging.

The interviews provided valuable information on the delivery of the scheme, as well as the obstacles and benefits encountered during the process. In addition, the scientists recorded information on the schools’ grounds and facilities.

The duration of the activity at all schools was 15 minutes, with one participant noting that the intervention is actually time and not distanced based, as suggested by the name. The amount of time was perceived as being short enough to not interfere too much with the school day and, if the children were running, then they achieved approximately one mile during this period.

One school reported that they initially had the children completing an actual mile; however, it took some children too long or was too difficult for them to complete the distance. Therefore, the school adapted their approach to 15 minutes of activity, which was more feasible.

Dr Gemma Ryde
The Daily Mile appears to have several factors which may relate to its implementation success. These are important considerations for others looking to implement The Daily Mile effectively in their primary school or in other contexts.
Dr Gemma Ryde Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health in Sport

Primary schools predominantly chose to implement walking, jogging or running as the type of activity, as per the original Daily Mile concept.

One interviewee said: “It catered for all abilities… the ones that maybe are a bit slower, because you’ll get out there and some of the kids will just run around and they want to know how many laps they can do. Whereas, you’ve got other ones that are happy just to walk.”

At another school, teachers replaced The Daily Mile with The Daily Skip, due to space constraints within the small playground. However, the alternative scheme proved “very challenging” for various reasons, including: the cost of equipment; the logistics of managing the skipping ropes; and the skills required to skip.

“They highlighted how these challenges, which move away from the original simple design, plus other demands from within the curriculum, meant that The Daily Skip was only happening sporadically, if at all,” Dr Ryde said.

The study found that schools typically participated in The Daily Mile three to five times per week – normally on days with no scheduled physical education.

Teacher autonomy was an important factor in implementation, with staff deciding the best time of day to take the schoolchildren outdoors, while adaptability was also important, with teachers able to change the initiative – such as the route or surface – according to their environment and context.

Dr Ryde added: “The Daily Mile appears to have several factors which may relate to its implementation success. These are important considerations for others looking to implement The Daily Mile effectively in their primary school or in other contexts.”

Elaine Wyllie, of the Daily Mile Foundation, said: “I am delighted that the research undertaken by the University of Stirling has confirmed that The Daily Mile works best when it is put in place according to our core principles.

“Their research has shown that implementation should be kept simple, following the advice for schools that has been set out by The Daily Mile Foundation.

“I’d like to thank the University of Stirling for carrying out this work and highlighting that the adoption of our straightforward approach ensures that children can enjoy all the benefits of The Daily Mile.”

The study, The Daily Mile: What factors are associated with its implementation success, is published in PLOS ONE.

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