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Let’s Run Around Like Kids Again!

Monday, January 2, 2017

I was the awkward, uncoordinated, gawky girl in gym class. I vividly recall standing against the gymnasium wall.  The teacher would almost always ask the two most athletic girls to be captains and pick teams.  Well, no surprise, I was inevitably chosen second to last.  Apparently, there was one other girl who had more issues with eye hand coordination than moi.   Gym class was all about throwing a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball, understanding where to throw the ball…just a tad challenging for this girl.   Every year, however, there was a bright shining moment – square dancing.  As the other kids moaned and groaned about the dance unit, I was in my glory.  For two magnificent weeks, there was music, movement, and rhythm.   I am thankful for those few weeks every year because it taught me that being active can look a lot of different ways.  As an adult, I have come to appreciate free weights, stability balls, Pilates, and aerobics.  But most of all, I just love walking.  Simply putting one foot in front of the other keeps me fit and happy.  As an adult, I have pondered the disconnect between traditional organized sports versus a healthy and active lifestyle.

Lessons of perseverance, diligence, commitment, and teamwork are incredible by- products of team sports. Unfortunately, the message of life long health is often lost in the structured world of training to win.  When organized sport ends, you are supposed to magically hit the gym, embrace a healthy lifestyle, and stay fit.  Statistics indicate this is not the case. Even elite college athletes are becoming couch potatoes after their competitive years are done.  Many indicate they lack the internal motivation to keep moving without a training schedule.  And so the obesity epidemic with its ensuing chronic diseases continues to plague the western world.  35% of American adults and nearly 17% of teens are overweight.  Almost a quarter of us do not engage in any leisure time physical activity and only 20% meet the U.S. aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines.  What if we got back to basics and made running, playing, and walking outside part of our daily routine starting at a young age? What if every kid and adult simply moved each day? What if we made it fun and social?  That is what one teacher in Scotland asked.  The result is a program taking off throughout the UK and parts of Europe called the Daily Mile.  

Elaine Wyllie, head teacher (now retired) of St. Ninians school in Scotland, started the program four years ago.  As the story goes, a volunteer commented to Wyllie that the children were unfit.  Wyllie asked a group of 11-year-olds to run a mile.  She was aghast as students struggled to finish.  The idea for a daily walk, jog, or run was born.  She designed a program that was non-competitive, social, and fun.  The basic premise is this – once a day at whatever time the teacher chooses, the class goes outside and runs, jogs, or walks for 15 minutes.    All children are included and do it in their school clothes.  Kiddos are encouraged to talk and socialize along the way.  It happens outside in almost all weather.  Schools map out a path or track; the students and teacher then do 5-10 laps depending on its length.   There is no equipment, no set-up, and no need to warm up or cool down.  Every child no matter their weight, fitness level, or ability is included.  So how far can kiddos go in 15 minutes?  In the 4-7 year old group, 50% run 1 mile, 25% more than a mile, and 25% less than a mile.   In the 8-11 age group, 50% run a mile, 40% more than a mile, and 10% less than a mile.  

The obesity epidemic is complicated and multi-faceted.   Nutrition, technology use, stress, and genetics all play a role.  The simplicity of the Daily Mile, however, is already showing promising results in the UK.  Early scientific studies show that the level of obesity at St Ninian’s School is around 45% less than the national average.  In addition, anecdotal evidence from parents and teachers suggests that the fresh air activity results in renewed energy and better concentration in the class room.  To sort out all the variables and determine the validity of the program, Colin Moran, an academic from the University of Stirling, is leading a study. His research team is comparing schools in the Stirling area to see if the reported benefits can be linked to the daily mile.  

Running, jogging, or walking 15 minutes per day may not be the complete answer to the obesity epidemic but it may very well be a big piece of the wellness pie. I, for one, plan on including it my New Year routine although I may throw in a little dancing too!

To learn more about everyday exercise, try these websites:

The Daily Mile - www.thedailymile.co.uk

CDC - www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity

National Institute on Aging - https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-physical-activity/introduction

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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