The journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step, according to the Chinese proverb.
This phrase is often used as a motivational tool to solve a problem or take on a difficult challenge – simply by making a small start.
It’s certainly a fitting statement when trying to tackle childhood obesity and inactivity.
The first step then, according to an award-winning headteacher, is not taking a walk but running a mile.
The Daily Mile is a health and well-being initiative created at St Ninian’s Primary School in February 2012.
It was born when its principal teacher Elaine Wyllie observed a lot of puffed-out children struggling to run the length of themselves.
In the months that followed, the school’s 420 pupils were all running or walking a mile every day during 15 minutes of outdoor exercise.
Three years on, the idea is being seriously considered by education chiefs not only in Scotland but across the UK, as well as parts of Spain and Italy.
It is also under the scrutiny of university researchers and will be a topic of discussion at a major international health care conference in Florida this month.
But why all this attention? Because, according to Elaine, it’s as easy as one-two-three – and it works.
She said: “Simplicity is utterly the key to this.
“It costs nothing, it’s not competitive, it can be done at any time of the day, you don’t need to set it up or put it away and the children don’t change their clothes to do it.
“Right now, every single child in our school is fit.
“In January this year, a nurse assessed our primary ones – children who had been doing the Daily Mile for 18 months in their nursery class.
“In a class of 57 primary ones, not one was overweight. She had not seen that in any other school.”
Although several Scottish local authorities had already been looking at adopting the Daily Mile, the Government has now stepped in to speed its deployment.
Scotland’s health minister Shona Robison and education minister Angela Constance announced they would write to all primary schools, encouraging each of them to adopt the Daily Mile regime.
Angela said: “We know physical activity improves the health and well-being of children and, in turn, can improve their performance in the classroom.
“Initiatives like the Daily Mile are simple but effective and other schools around the country have already adopted the idea after seeing the success at St Ninian’s.
“That is why we are encouraging all schools to consider implementing the scheme or developing their own physical activity initiatives.
“We will also produce an online resource with Education Scotland to provide further information on how schools can implement the Daily Mile and other evidence-based approaches that can incorporate physical activity.”
But such high-level endorsement is not a first.
Last year Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Aileen Keel, visited St Ninian’s Primary to see the Daily Mile in action.
She concluded that the children were energised and that the simple scheme should be rolled out across Scotland.
The exercise model is also being studied by The University of Stirling which is exploring the physical, mental and cognitive benefits of the Daily Mile against the 21st century curse of childhood obesity.
Other Scottish local authorities are looking at or have already started rolling out the Daily Mile. Stirling Council has it up and running in more than 20 primaries.
The idea is also being looked at in London, Wales, Dudley and Gateshead, and there has been interest from Italy and Catalonia too. It’s a stunning success for an initiative that started because of a casual comment from an 80-year-old volunteer at St Ninian’s Primary.
Elaine said: “He said, ‘the children are not fit,’ Mrs Wyllie.
“After I heard that, I spoke to the PE department and they told me that the children were always exhausted – even just doing a warm-up.
“I took some children out to a path around a nearby field and got them to run.
“Very quickly, they were complaining of having stitches in their sides and most were gasping for air.
“So I said well, if not us then who and if not now, when?
“For the next month, the children ran round the field and were transformed by the Daily Mile in just four weeks.
“By Easter, we had five classes taking part and by the summer, all 13 classes; we then included the nursery class.
“Children naturally like running and being outside; they have a wonderful, spiritual love of the outdoors.
“When they have been running, they have bright eyes and puffed-up cheeks and their hair is clamped to their heads.
“They are happy and they look the way children should look. The children have learned a life skill and definitely think more about their health now.”
Mrs Wyllie (60) retired from St Ninian’s a few weeks ago but she’s not putting her feet up.
She says she will continue to work with Stirling Council and various other partners to develop the Daily Mile.
Armed with this year’s Pride of Britain Teacher of the Year award, she will also speak at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s 27th annual national forum on quality improvement in health care in Orlando this month.
She added: “It’s not the end of the road for the Daily Mile.”
Up and running
Falkirk Council said one or two schools would pilot the Daily Mile and the idea is under consideration.
South Lanarkshire Council said it is rolling out the Daily Mile in its schools.
Fife Council said a number of its schools are involved in the Daily Mile or similiar activities.
Edinburgh City Council said adopting the Daily Mile initiative is a matter for individual primary schools, although Sighthill Primary School is on board. Other schools do a variety of physical activity including daily bursts of five minutes of exercise every day.
North Lanarkshire Council said it is considering the initiative.
Angus Council said many of its schools are now doing the Daily Mile but it will be left to the discretion of head teachers as to whether it’s appropriate for their school.
Glasgow City Council said it had been running a similiar physical programme in many of its schools for several years.
A spokeswoman said: “We have several programmes running across Glasgow which involve walking or running a mile.
“Our active school co-ordinators have created the programmes to engage the children and young people in physical activity and include The Mileathon, The Walking We’ans and The School Strider to name but a few.
“More than 3500 P5s recently took part in a programme in advance of running a mile at The Great Schools Run in September as well.”