Lifestyle

'Fifteen minutes running or walking during the school day makes kids sharper'


Dr Miriam Stoppard discusses how researchers have discovered that fitter pupils have better memories

Fitness sharpens brains

Here’s a message that could be useful for parents – children who run or walk for 15 minutes a day during the school day are mentally and physically sharper than those who don’t.

A study has shown primary pupils who did a running programme, such as the Daily Mile, for longer than three months were fitter than those who took part for a shorter time.

Also taking time out of lessons for a run or walk didn’t have any negative effect on pupils’ thinking skills or wellbeing – and the fitter children had a better memory, University researchers in Scotland have found.

The study is the first to look at the long-term effects on psychological health made by school-based running programmes such as the Daily Mile, which involves children taking a 15-minute break from class to do physical activity – and I’m surprised we haven’t done this earlier.

The Daily Mile, established by a headteacher in Stirling, celebrated its 10th birthday in April.

According to the Daily Mile Foundation more than three million pupils across the world now take part.

The study team worked with schools and the BBC’s Terrific Scientific educational enterprise to collect the data for the largest ever study into its benefits.

Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Highlands and Islands observed 6,000 pupils aged nine to 11 who took a series of cognitive function tests. Teachers guided pupils through a bleep test to measure fitness and then pupils completed computer-based tasks measuring attention and memory, and reported their own wellbeing.

The team used statistical assumptions to analyse the impact of the 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. Fitness had an immediate impact showing a small but detectable effect with better memory and thinking skills even in pupils who had taken part for less than two months.

This study shows the benefits of school based running programmes on fitness and mental abilities, researchers claim and I agree. Let’s roll this programme out nationwide.

Dr Josie Booth, from the School of Education and Sport, says: “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.”

Researcher Dr Colin Moran, of Stirling University, added: “It’s great to see the longer term benefits of the Daily Mile for kid’s health coming through in our work.”

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