Making a Case for Prevention–The Daily Mile
November 16, 2023
November 16, 2023
In an earlier post to Morning Zen, I discussed the imperativeness of behavioral health prevention services for children as early as possible. Treating behavioral health challenges at an early age, including before problems begin to present themselves, can assist in reducing problems during childhood and into adolescence and adulthood. One place that lends itself to easy access for implementing prevention services to children is the schools. Since all children are required to attend school, what better way to reach them than in a setting they will most definitely be in?
The Daily Mile
An exciting example of a prevention service that is easy to implement and is cost effective is The Daily Mile (TDM), a school-based program for children from PreK to age 21. TDM encourages teachers and students to be active during class at least three times a week for at least 15 minutes. The idea behind the program is framed around the calculation that a child could run a mile in approximately 15 minutes. It is important to note that the goal is to not necessarily “run” a mile but get moving in the likely time it would take to run a mile.1 Results from TDM suggest that students who complete active movement for at least six weeks have significantly improved academic, mental, and physical outcomes.2 TDM has shown no negative outcomes, and any child who has participated in TDM have not regressed in any of the improvement areas after completing participation.1,3 Implementing a physical activity program such as TDM has no cost and requires little time from educators or parents; two significant barriers to implementing most other prevention services in schools.3
While The Daily Mile primarily focuses on enhancing physical fitness, its broader implications on mental health, cognitive functioning, and academic performance cannot be overlooked. Physical activity has a long history of benefits that extend well beyond physical health, including mental health, cognitive functioning, and academic performance. It has shown proven increases in children’s behavioral health and worked as a prevention method when leading into adulthood.3 Physical health, cognitive functioning, academic achievement, and mental well-being are interconnected, each being influenced by the other. For instance, regular physical activity can lead to increased cognitive functioning, improving academic performance.4 Increased academic performance results in higher life satisfaction, thus improving children’s overall well-being and mental health, creating a feedback loop of well-being.5 This post aims to delve into the multifaceted connection of these domains.
Benefits & Research
Physical Activity and Mental Health
Physical activity is vital to children’s mental health. Nearly 80% of children worldwide do not meet the WHO guidelines on physical activity, depriving them of the needed movement that’s beneficial to their mental health.2,6 Physical activity is positively associated with the reduction in mental health disorders/diseases, including depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.6 It is linked to higher life satisfaction and positive affect.5 Physical activity and physically active programs such as TDM have shown improvements in children’s self-esteem, providing them with the needed competence and confidence when committing and completing goals.7 It is also positively associated with resilience and decreases in bullying victimization.5 Resiliency in turn increases children’s self-esteem, mental health, physical health, and the prevention of the development of mental health problems in adulthood.8
Cognitive Functioning and Academic Performance
Physically active children have higher grades, academic performance, better attendance, higher cognitive performance and functioning, and better classroom behaviors.2,9 Children who have higher fitness ability have demonstrated better memory recollection, attention, and memory retention.2,10 When children complete at least 10 minutes of physical activity in the classroom, they displayed more on task behaviors and had increased academic achievement.4 Adding physical activity to the daily routine at school does not detract from curriculum and academics, but enhances it.
Teacher Wellness/Teacher Attitude
Physical activity programs improve teacher attitude and wellness. Teachers’ attitudes and relationship towards and with their students is one of the top predictors of positive academic outcomes for students.11 Physical activity programs such as TDM provide teachers with the autonomy to control their classroom and provide beneficial “brain breaks” for their students. Teachers are given autonomy over the program resulting in sense of personal accomplishment and appreciation, thus developing motivation for the learning of the students and a better teacher-student connection.11 Teachers who relate with their students can improve their relationship with their class, improving their students’ engagement and positive emotions.12 This type of program also provides teachers the ability to support their students better; this perceived support from teachers reduces the risk of students’ social problems and academic failure.11
Challenges to The Daily Mile
The Daily Mile has candidly identified a few barriers to successful implementation of the program. However, these barriers can be easily overcome. Listed below are some of the barriers and recommendations for addressing them:
Participation is a challenge
A challenge faced by schools implementing TDM is that some teachers and administrators fear that it will cause an interruption of curriculum time.
Students deserve and need a break from work while at school. Just as adults become burned out from work, children can be burned out from school. Providing children with a break from the curriculum can be beneficial in a multitude of ways including:13
If leaving the classroom takes too much extra time, and there is no extra space to conduct the break, make students move around in the classroom for 15 minutes! The students can do jumping jacks in place, run around their desks, or even dance with a Zumba video. If the fear is that they will be too hyper after this, make them do a 30-second to 1-minute meditation or Savasana as they do in yoga, which brings down their heart rate and gives them a sense of mindfulness.
Extreme temperatures can be a barrier to getting students outside to participate in The Daily Mile.
According to the World Health Organization, doing some amount of activity is better than doing none.2 In extreme temperatures, it’s important to think outside of the box. The school may lack a gym, room in the cafeteria, or, have poor air quality in their surroundings. An easy solution is to use an enclosed wing of the school and do TDM indoors. Every school has some way and location to get the students moving; that’s when creativity kicks in.
Data Collection and Research
While there are positive anecdotal reviews on the TDM program, very few studies have been conducted focusing on the specific benefits of TDM on behavioral health. It is recommended more robust research on the impact of TDM on behavioral health be conducted, extending research questions well beyond the current tracking of sign-up data and delve more deeply into utilization data that tracks improvements and continued utilization in schools. A better form of collection must be used to know if TDM is benefiting all diverse communities that utilize the program. Because the staff of TDM is limited, which limits the communication between the thousands of schools in the US, a recommendation for TDM would be to have a joint data website or online page that collects data from each school. The collected data should be branched under each school to organize the data together.
An excellent way to encourage TDM users to enter up-to-date data would be to send out an email or newsletter that includes pre and post-test questionnaires each semester, which equates to two times per school year. A likely contact for each school may be the mental health professional assigned to the school. The data collected by each teacher could then be funneled in to the TDM website, which could show efforts by individual schools and highlight areas of improvement such as:
Successful Implementation in Schools
Implementing TDM into schools is easy and has no cost to the school but time. The key to successful implementation is commitment and consistency in making teachers and students participate in active movement for the 15 minutes per day. Creating a culture within the school that promotes the utilization of TDM can encourage teachers to use TDM consistently. Creating a norm and values within the school that emphasizes the utilization of TDM can be a key factor for continuation.14 Not only must teachers be actively involved, but administrators must also be involved in the entire process too, to encourage participation and motivate engagement in activity. When teachers see that upper level administration is on board when implementing TDM, their motivation to actively engage increases.
There is ample evidence that offering prevention measures in the schools will reduce the risk of occurrence of and increased behavioral health problems into adulthood. Many negative outcomes can be avoided in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood that are easily prevented by implementing school prevention programs. We have the resources and the time to provide all children with the tools to protect their future mental health, and I have given only one example out of many that are available to children at little or no cost. With The Daily Mile, taking 15 minutes out of an educator and child’s day can improve a child’s overall health, including physical and mental health, thus improving their cognitive functioning and academic performance. As a bonus, The Daily Mile benefits the teachers as well!
Our duty as researchers, policymakers, communities, parents, and caretakers is to provide behavioral health prevention methods for children before mental health challenges. We must do our due diligence to protect all children and provide them with tools that grow them into successful adults. The results are clear: prevention services are easy and cheap to implement; it just takes 15 minutes a day and a little effort.
Jocilynne Jepsen is pursuing a Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health at the University of South Florida. Throughout the program, Jocilynne has focused much of her research on her interests, including prevention measures for children and the need for early intervention. Through her internship, she plans to delve deeper into government and state reports to analyze what research says works and whether it has or has not been implemented for children. She hopes this research can be shared with legislatures in the future to help save money, time, and improve children’s mental health.