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Exercise helps boost pupils’ memory and fitness, says new study led by chartered BPS member

06 May 2022

Children who take part in running programmes at school can benefit mentally and physically from the activity, new research has found.

It is the biggest study to date looking at the ‘Daily Mile’ and the first to examine the long-term effects on psychological health of school-based running programmes.

A total of 6,908 primary school pupils UK-wide, who were running the required 15-minutes, three times a week, took part in the study. They were split into three groups – those who had been running for less than two months, those who had been running for more than three months and those who did not take part in a running programme at all.

The study found that:

  • In the group that had been running for less than two months, those children who were fitter had better memory
  • Those children who had been running longer than three months were physically fitter; however, there were no benefits for cognition or wellbeing in this group

Dr Josie Booth, a chartered BPS member who led the study, believes the findings can give teachers and school leaders the confidence that use of running programmes is justified. She said:

“Taking part in the Daily Mile has an immediate impact on children’s wellbeing, memory and attention, which puts them in a better position to learn. Longer term, there are also benefits in improved levels of physical fitness.”

However, running programmes were just part of the picture, Dr Booth added. As there was a good body of evidence linking physical activity with improved psychological health, so there was a need to look at the situation ‘holistically’ and consider other ways to get children moving.

Dr Booth, Senior Lecturer in Development Psychology, University of Edinburgh, said research was needed on the broader measures of wellbeing following participation in running programmes, which were outside the scope of the present study, as well as academic attainment.

BPS member Professor Trish Gorely, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, was also part of the research team.

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