Friday 18 October 2019

Daily Mile a runaway success in making our children healthier

Children are benefiting from an initiative that has got them moving, writes Frank Greally

Pupils and teachers from St Patrick’s NS in Slane run in the Daily Mile, watched by Lisa O'Dowd from Meath Sports Partnership and Frank Greally, Athletics Ireland's Daily Mile ambassador. Photo: David Conachy
Pupils and teachers from St Patrick’s NS in Slane run in the Daily Mile, watched by Lisa O'Dowd from Meath Sports Partnership and Frank Greally, Athletics Ireland's Daily Mile ambassador. Photo: David Conachy

It's just a year since Athletics Ireland, in association with the Local Sports Partnerships, hosted the official launch of the Daily Mile in Ireland at St Brigid's National School in Castleknock and later that same week at Blennerville Primary School in Tralee.

It has been a fast, exciting and deeply fulfilling 12-month journey for me in my new role as ambassador for the Daily Mile, which has now been embraced by 800 primary schools all over Ireland, with new sign-ups coming on board every day. The Athletics Ireland team, led by Anthony White, has been on a winning streak and the feedback from teachers, parents and children has been greatly encouraging.

Following a recent conversation with Professor Niall Moyna, Clinical Exercise Physiologist in the School Of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University, I experienced a surge of gratitude last Monday for physical therapist Gerard Hartmann, who 18 months ago set me on a course of introducing the Daily Mile to Athletics Ireland. I'm also grateful to Jim Ratcliffe and his team at INEOS, the global company who have helped spread this good news story across an ever-growing number of countries, including Ireland.

What Moyna had to say about many children's current fitness levels and their future health was brutally honest - and chilling, too. As I listened to him speak, my first thoughts were of my three grandchildren, aged six, eight and 10, and of all of the younger generation who so urgently need to learn the value of regular exercise. It's easy to miss the point when you see so many children engaged in games and junior park runs, but research gives a different and terrifying picture of what the future could hold for the emerging generation.

"According to the World Health Organisation, on current trends, for the first time in the history of humanity, many children today will not outlive their parents because of poor lifestyle - particularly lack of exercise," Professor Moyna said.

"Our research has already shown that some unfit 15-year-old boys have blood vessels similar to those of a 55-year-old man, mostly due to their low levels of physical activity. The vast majority of 10- to 12-year-olds are getting minimal amounts of play activity, leading to a surge in overweight and obesity. The research has turned up another startling fact; that between 20 and 25 per cent of three- to five-year-old children today are either overweight or obese.

"Looking at chronic disease trends, many children will spend most of their lives in poor health, suffering from diabetes, fatty liver and various cancers - all preventable, because something as simple as walking or running a mile a day can have a profound impact on lowering the risk of these chronic diseases."

Moyna's words resonated on Monday as I watched children take part in the Daily Mile at St Patrick's National School in Slane. It was a pure joy to see children walk and run around a lovely green field and I felt compelled to join them for a few laps in the summer sunshine. I was joined by Lisa O'Dowd from the Meath Sports Partnership, who have also been promoting the initiative to primary schools in the county.

The Daily Mile had a humble beginning in 2012 in Scotland, when school principal Elaine Wyllie asked a class of 10-year-olds to run around the school playing field. "I was shocked to discover that by halfway round the field, most of them were exhausted and had to stop." Elaine told me when she visited St Brigid's National School in Castleknock last year.

"Most of the children were completely unfit - and they recognised this themselves. I felt that I had to do something about this inconvenient truth and I sat down with their teacher to discuss the situation.

"The children were keen to run round the field for 15 minutes every day to see what level of fitness they could achieve after a month.

"The results were remarkable. The children looked better, felt better and were much fitter. They were averaging five laps of the field in 15 minutes, which when measured, turned out to be a mile. Despite the name, however, the Daily Mile is never a set distance. It's always 15 minutes a day with each child walking, jogging or running at their own pace."

I have seen remarkable results being achieved by children who participate in the Daily Mile in schools all across the country. Teachers talk about children having better concentration, higher levels of energy and improved social interaction - a direct result of a daily 15 minutes of walking or running.

Early support for it came from Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS who saw value in what Wyllie was delivering at her school. Very soon the message was spread to schools across Britain and further afield.

Here, it has received solid government support since it was introduced.

"The Daily Mile is a programme of attraction - a simple programme that is highly effective. It's all about consistency and keeping it simple. The response from school principals, teachers, parents and parents has been nothing but positive.

"When children go out for a walk or a run they are more settled in themselves," says Catherina McKiernan, summing up its value. "From my own experience, I have run from a young age and I know the long-term benefits running has given me. That's why I want to encourage even more school principals and teachers all over the country to adopt the Daily Mile and make it part of their school day.

"The Daily Mile will build a gradual and natural base of endurance and good health that will help sustain them in the years ahead."

Primary Schools can register for The Daily Mile at: thedailymile.ie Further information from frank@thedailymile.ie

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