Daily Mile: Pupils boost memory and fitness from daily activity, say researchers

A decade since a Scottish headteacher set up a scheme to encourage youngsters to run or walk for 15 minutes during their school days, researchers have found the children taking part are mentally and physically sharper than those who do not.

By Dan Barker
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 12:47 pm

Primary pupils who took part in a running programme, such as the Daily Mile, for longer than three months were fitter than those who did so for a shorter period.

And, university researchers found, taking time out of lessons for a run or a walk did not have a negative effect on pupils’ thinking skills or wellbeing, while greater fitness was also found to be related with better memory.

Dr Josie Booth, from the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport, said: “Taking part in the Daily Mile each day can improve pupil fitness and while we did not find longer term benefits for cognition and wellbeing, there was no substantial negative impact either.

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Health and education chiefs hoped the initiative could instil good habits in youngsters. Picture: TSPL

“The health benefits of physical activity coupled with the immediate benefit, which supports learning, makes such physical activity breaks worthwhile and should be considered by class teachers and school management, as well as education policy makers.”

The study was the first to look at the long-term effects on psychological health of school-based running programmes such as the Daily Mile, which involves children taking a 15-minute break from class to do physical activity.

Thursday marks 10 years since Stirling headteacher Elaine Wyllie set up the Daily Mile Foundation, which now sees more than three million pupils across the world participate in its programme.

In the latest study, researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Highlands and Islands observed 6,000 pupils aged nine to 11 who undertook a series of cognitive function tests.

Teachers guided pupils through a bleep test to measure fitness and then pupils completed bespoke computer-based tasks to measure attention and memory and reported their own wellbeing.

The team used statistical models to analyse the impact of a long-term running programme on a pupil’s cognition, wellbeing and fitness.

They also considered other factors, such as age, sex and socio-economic status.

Findings showed fitness had a small but detectable association with better memory and thinking skills in pupils who had taken part for less than two months.