A scheme that gets schoolchildren to walk a mile a day has a range of health benefits and should be introduced by governments around the world, researchers have said.
The University of Stirling study of The Daily Mile, which started in Scotland and involves pupils walking or doing some other form of physical activity for 15 minutes, found that it improves fitness, body composition and activity levels.
The study, published today in the journal BMC Medicine, involved 391 pupils aged 4-12, and found that those doing a daily mile ran farther on a bleep test shuttle run than children in a control school.
Elaine Wyllie, the then headteacher of St Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling, founded the initiative in 2012 to improve pupils’ fitness. Children are encouraged to run, jog or walk around their school grounds during a 15-minute break, in addition to normal intervals and PE lessons.
Researchers studied pupils at two primary schools in the Stirling Council region, with a total of 391 pupils aged between four and 12 taking part.
Joint lead researcher Dr Naomi Brooks, of the University of Stirling, said she had also seen an increase of 9.1 minutes per day in children’s average daily minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, and a decrease of 18.2 minutes per day in sedentary time.
Dr Colin Moran, who co-led the study, said the findings suggest 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”.
Around half of Scotland's primary schools have taken up the scheme, amid concerns over pupils' fitness, and it has spread to many schools elsewhere in the UK, with some claiming that it has improved attainment. It was recently estimated that more than 3,600 schools in 30 countries have taken up the idea - although not all make pupils to complete a mile every day - and the further education sector has also shown an interest.
Ms Wyllie, who has retired as a headteacher and now represents the Daily Mile Foundation, said: “With my pupils, I saw that 15 minutes of daily activity rapidly improved pupils' fitness, health and concentration in the classroom.
“I am delighted that this new research underlines what I found and I look forward to the day when every school does The Daily Mile.”
Scotland’s education secretary John Swinney, appearing on a BBC Radio Scotland phone-in today, said: “It is really important that young people should have access to that experience, but I don’t think we should be prescriptive [that] it has got to happen in this fashion in every school in the country.”
Mr Swinney was told during the programme of concerns that some schools are doing the Daily Mile during PE time, rather than in addition to PE.
Westminster health secretary Jeremy Hunt has praised The Daily Mile in the past, saying that it had “introduced physical activity into the everyday life of the school in an easy, inclusive and fun way”.