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The Daily Mile

Our research showed that a simple local solution could improve the fitness of school pupils. Now 10,000+ schools have adopted The Daily Mile approach.

It all started in Stirling and has now spread to more than 70 countries.

The Daily Mile was founded in February 2012 by Elaine Wyllie, the then headteacher of St Ninians Primary School in Stirling, who wanted 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.

Fighting a crisis

The backdrop to the Daily Mile is a global childhood physical activity crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day but fewer than 40% of children achieve these levels. The number of overweight and obese children has increased dramatically in recent years, and lack of exercise and too much sitting around will be part of the reason. Overweight kids are at higher risk of diabetes, strokes and heart disease in later years, so this directly affects both their quality of life and potentially their lifespan.

Equally alarmingly, children’s physical fitness has significantly declined since at least the 1980s. They can’t run as far without stopping as their parents could.

The Daily Mile seemed to offer a free, simple solution to help fight this crisis, so it was easy to see why it spread across Scotland, the UK and the world, with 10,000+ schools in more than 70 countries adopting the approach.

But there was a problem. There was not enough evidence to suggest the Daily Mile was actually working.

By taking small steps and jogging, walking or running for 15 minutes, people can make huge changes to their health and wellbeing. We want Scotland to be the first ‘Daily Mile Nation'.

Aileen Campbell, Scottish Government’s Public Health and Sport Minister (2016-2018)

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.

infographic: Our experts

Our experts

showed a simple local solution could improve the fitness of school pupils

infographic: 10,000+

10,000+

schools in more than 70 countries have adopted the approach

infographic: The Daily Mile

The Daily Mile

improves a child’s fitness, attention and memory

Our research suggests that The Daily Mile is a worthwhile intervention to introduce in schools and that it should be considered for inclusion in government policy, both at home and abroad.

Dr Colin Moran, University of Stirling

What our research found

 A collaboration between the universities of Stirling and Edinburgh 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.

The science behind The Daily Mile

What happens next?

Our research suggests The Daily Mile is an effective, flexible tool in improving child health and wellbeing. Following the scheme’s success, the Scottish Government has outlined its desire for Scotland to become the first Daily Mile nation, with around half of the country’s primary schools now implementing the approach.

There has been interest from the UK Government and the scheme has attracted the attention of other countries, with the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of the USA among those to have already adopted the approach.

The next step in our research is to understand whether it can work in different educational settings, such as high schools, and whether it works equally well for pupils from different backgrounds.

Explore more

Collaborating with Dr Josie Booth at the University of Edinburgh and Dr Trish Gorely at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Related publications

Response to Daly-Smith et al.'s commentary on 'The Daily Mile
Commentary: Chesham RA, Booth JN, Sweeney EL, Ryde GC, Gorely T, Brooks NE & Moran CN (2019) Response to Daly-Smith et al.'s commentary on 'The Daily Mile makes primary school children more active, less sedentary and improves their fitness and body

Article | The Daily Mile: What factors are associated with its implementation success?
Ryde GC, Booth JN, Brooks NE, Chesham RA, Moran CN & Gorely T (2018) The Daily Mile: What factors are associated with its implementation success?. PLoS ONE

Article | The Daily Mile makes primary school children more active, less sedentary and improves their fitness and body composition: a quasi-experimental pilot study
Chesham R, Booth JN, Sweeney EL, Ryde G, Gorely T, Brooks N & Moran CN (2018) The Daily Mile makes primary school children more active, less sedentary and improves their fitness and body composition: a quasi-experimental pilot study. BMC

When kids run for 15 minutes in school every day, here’s what happens to their health
Newspaper Article: Moran CN, Brooks N & Chesham R (2018) When kids run for 15 minutes in school every day, here’s what happens to their health. The Conversation>. 10.05.2018.

Effect of a school-based intervention to promote healthy lifestyles in 7-11 year old children
Article: Gorely T, Nevill ME, Morris JG, Stensel DJ & Nevill A (2009) Effect of a school-based intervention to promote healthy lifestyles in 7-11 year old children. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity>, 6, Art.

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