How to encourage daily physical activity in children

Amy Hallissey
26 October, 2017 : 16:00
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Why it's more important than ever to encourage children to adopt an active lifestyle

We all know it's good for our children to lead active lifestyles thanks to the research of the World Health Organization and others. With busy lives, it can be difficult to strike the right balance of ensuring our children are moving enough and eating nutritious, balanced meals throughout the day – at home and at school. So how much is enough? The UK’s Chief Medical Officer recommends that children engage in moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity for one hour per day, of which 30 minutes is provided by schools. However, expense, time constraints and a full curriculum can make ensuring children taken part in an adequate amount of sport and PE tricky to achieve in reality.

A small idea with a big impact

One initiative that’s having an astounding effect on tackling today's sedentary crisis is The Daily Mile. Founder Elaine Wyllie started the initiative in February 2012 while she was headteacher of a large Scottish primary school. One day, a volunteer at the school told Elaine that the children were unfit.

“On any other day I could have just let that go but I thought, I’m going to take a class out and see if he’s right,” Elaine says. “I took a year five class out to run around the field. They couldn’t do it. Most of them were exhausted before they were halfway round the field.”

Elaine decided with the children that they’d go out for 15 minutes every day for a month to run around the field and see if they could improve their fitness. After four weeks the children were transformed. There were noticeable effects on their focus, behaviour and fitness, and other class teachers started asking to take part with their own classes.  By June 2012, the whole school was taking part.

Changing attitudes towards fitness

From there, Elaine began to speak more widely about the benefits of doing The Daily Mile, and how other schools can successfully implement it. Soon, other local schools started taking part, then other counties and even countries: today, there are over 3,000 schools worldwide taking part in The Daily Mile. In 2015, Elaine’s hard work was recognised when she was awarded the Pride of Britain Teacher of the Year award.

Elaine has since retired from teaching but still campaigns to get The Daily Mile into primary schools across the UK and the rest of the world. The main principles of The Daily Mile haven’t changed since its humble beginnings in Scotland – children simply go outside to run, jog or walk in their school clothes for 15 minutes every day during school or nursery. 

Simple, sustainable and effective

What makes The Daily Mile so successful is its simplicity – it costs nothing, it requires absolutely no staff training and the children already know what to do. 

Teachers choose a suitable time to do The Daily Mile, whether this is during the morning to let out a burst of energy from the children, or during the afternoon to combat those sluggish afternoon ‘slumps’.

It’s as simple as pencils down, doors open and off they go.

Remarkable results

Specialist fitness evaluation company, Fitmedia Fitness, recently assessed the impact of doing The Daily Mile on the health and wellbeing of pupils at Coppermill Primary School, London, over the course of 12 weeks. The ‘Coppermile’ Report revealed that pupils who do The Daily Mile perform better in reading, writing and maths SATS with up to a 25% increase in reading, up to 17% in writing, and up to 25% in maths.

Fun, freedom and inclusivity

The Daily Mile includes every single child – regardless of gender, special needs or personal circumstances. Every child, every day has the chance to improve their mental and physical well-being in an environment free from pressure or expectations. When implemented properly according to the core principles, this golden 15 minutes becomes a cornerstone of school culture, owned by the staff, children and parents, and placing health and well-being at its heart. The Daily Mile is a very positive way of tackling issues such as childhood obesity and the long-term risks of sedentary lifestyles as well as benefitting children's wider health and wellbeing. 

The days when children would spend the majority of their free time playing outside are declining, but this doesn’t mean they have different needs. In a world of constantly evolving forms of entertainment, we need to remember what children really need to thrive – freedom, fun with their friends, and fresh air. 

The Daily Mile

Has your child's school introduced The Daily Mile? To join the movement visit and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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Amy Hallissey
Amy Hallissey is Communications and Administrative Assistant at The Daily Mile Foundation, a charity which aims to encourage daily physical activity in children by encouraging them to run, walk or jog in their schools or nurseries for 15 minutes per day.

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