The miracle mile
Six years after a teacher started the Daily Mile, 3,600 schools worldwide are using it
Six years ago, an elementary teacher at a small school in Scotland was so shocked by her students’ lack of fitness, she took her class outside for a 15-minute run around the yard. The kids enjoyed it so much, she made a deal to do it every day for a month. The idea caught on, and not only did every teacher in the school incorporate a 15-minute run into the school day, half the elementary schools in Scotland and several others in Europe and North America adopted it.
The concept is simple: kids run outside once a day for 15 minutes, whenever their teacher thinks it’s a good time to get moving. There’s no set pace or uniform. Some kids run. Some walk. And some do a bit of both — all wearing whatever they had on in the classroom. If it’s cold or raining, they grab a coat.
Called the Daily Mile — named for the distance covered if the children run the full 15 minutes — the program has shown success not just in its simplicity, but in the almost immediate buy-in by kids, teachers and school administrators. The kids love leaving the classroom for some fresh air and a jog around the schoolyard. The teachers love the change they see in the kids’ behaviour and attentiveness after the run. And the administrators love that it’s easy on the budget.
The idea is so popular, it’s starting to find its way into high schools and the workplace. Younger kids aren’t the only ones who need to incorporate more exercise into their daily routine. They’re also not the only ones who can benefit from a pickme-up when concentration and productivity start waning.
The program has the endorsement of British Prime Minister Theresa May and Scottish health officials. It also caught the attention of a team of Scottish researchers who put the Daily Mile to the test to see what kind of impact it had on the health and fitness of children.
The researchers recruited two elementary schools — one that was adopting the Daily Mile and one that wasn’t. Students from both schools (371 in total) all wore accelerometers to determine their daily movement and sedentary patterns, and participated in tests to determine overall fitness and body composition.
It turns out the impact of a 15-minute run around the yard goes far beyond letting kids shake out some of their excess energy. Seven months after the adoption of the Daily Mile, the kids in the study had added 9.1 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity to their day (since most kids spend the 15 minutes alternating between walking and running, not all of their activity qualifies as moderate to vigorous) and reduced their time spent being sedentary by 18 minutes (taking into account the time it takes to get outside and back to their desks). They also improved the distance travelled in a shuttle-run test, suggesting they were fitter than they were before starting the program. Tests determined the kids were leaner, too.
But the best news about the Daily Mile is that a simple idea has started to change the culture of schools — places where children are typically rewarded for sitting still. It’s also a reminder of the power of institutional buy-ins. Instead of finding reasons why the program wouldn’t work, a single school (St Ninians Primary School in Stirling, Scotland), led by a single teacher, made it happen.
That said, the change that occurred after leading that initial group of kids around the schoolyard for 15 minutes a day must have been significant. Not only did it spark transformational change in the school itself, the program has spread to 3,600 elementary schools worldwide.
It’s also worth acknowledging another key factor in its success: administrators have resisted any urge to over-program the concept. No uniforms. No expected pace or instruction. Plus, they let the kids socialize during the run, which makes it less like gym class and more like 15 minutes of fun in the middle of the day. The only expectation is that the kids keep moving.
Another benefit to the program is that the children learn the value of daily exercise not by telling, but by doing. They learn to appreciate exercise for how it makes them feel — a lesson that can change lifelong habits and lead to a healthier, more active population.
Given the lessons learned from the Daily Mile, it’s time for more schools and workplaces to allow something similar into their culture. Finding simple ways for students and employees to get moving can have just as positive an impact as that realized by the teachers and students at St Ninians Primary School. A happier, more energized classroom and workplace is just 15 minutes away.