University of Edinburgh: Pupils boost fitness and memory from exercise

Schoolchildren who run or walk for 15 minutes a day during the school day are mentally and physically sharper than those who do not, a study suggests.

Children running
Primary school pupils who took part in a running programme, such as the Daily Mile, for longer than three months were fitter than those who participated for a shorter time, researchers said.

Taking time out of lessons for a run or 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.

Long-term effects
The study is 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.

The Daily Mile, which was established by a headteacher in Stirling, celebrates its tenth birthday on Thursday, 28 April. According to the Daily Mile Foundation more than three million pupils across the world now participate in the program.

For this latest study, researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Highlands and Islands observed 6000 pupils aged nine to 11 who undertook a series of cognitive function tests.

Fitness tests
The team worked with schools and the BBC’s Terrific Scientific educational initiative to collect the data for the largest ever study into the benefits of the Daily Mile.

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.

While participating for longer three months had a significant association with higher fitness levels, no benefits for cognition and wellbeing were found.

This study shows the positive effects of school based running programmes on fitness and mental abilities, researchers say.

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. 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.

Dr Josie Booth
School of Education and Sport
It’s great to see the longer term benefits of the Daily Mile for kids health coming through in our work.

Dr Colin Moran
University of Stirling

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