Just 15 minutes' exercise a day make a huge difference for children

Exercise improves both cognitive function and well-being.
Exercise improves both cognitive function and well-being. Photo: John Shakespeare

Most of us know our children aren't getting as much exercise as they need. Recent guidelines issued by the UK's Department of Health recommend that all children from the age of five to adolescence take at least one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.

Both parents and schools need to address this issue urgently - and when we do, our children will benefit in a number of ways.

First, exercise improves both cognitive function and well-being. Naomi Brooks and colleagues at Stirling University, in Scotland, have studied the effects of an innovative programme dubbed the "Daily Mile". Created in 2012 by head teacher Elaine Wylie at St Ninian's Primary School in Stirling, this simple programme - requiring primary schoolchildren to take 15 minutes of self-paced aerobic exercise outdoors during every school day - has now been adopted by more than 3500 primary schools in more than 30 countries.

Brooks and her team compared children who'd participated in the Daily Mile for seven months with pupils in a school that hadn't adopted it. They found those in the Daily Mile showed increased verbal memory, attention, alertness and well-being. In another study, they recorded similar benefits for more than 7000 children after a single 15-minute session.

Furthermore, the benefits of exercise appear to be lifelong. David Jacobs and colleagues at the University of Minnesota followed 747 subjects aged 18 to 30 between 1985 and 2010. When in 2010 the participants were given a battery of cognitive tests, including verbal memory processing speed and the ability to plan, those who were physically fit 25 years earlier scored 10 per cent better than others.

Regular exercise early in life is also associated with better long-term physical health - even with longevity - as demonstrated by longitudinal studies at Harvard, in Framingham, Massachusetts, and at Perth in Australia. Vigorous exercise earlier in life is also associated with greater bone density later on, as Martin Nilsson and colleagues at the University of Gothenburg discovered in their work with 498 men aged 75.

Our most powerful and enduring habits are established during childhood. How can you encourage your children to take more regular outdoor exercise, particularly during the weekends?

Make exercise part of your weekends. Take family walks, rent bicycles together, find safe places to swim and/or try canoeing or kayaking. Parents are children's most important role models: be sure you take part too. Build a walk into your routine. Walk with them to the bus stop or park several blocks away and walk together to school in the morning. That way, you'll all feel alert for the rest of the day.

Telegraph, London