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For elementary schoolchildren, just 15 minutes of daily exercise improves lung health

Daily Exercise improves lung health
Schoolchildren and teachers participate in The Daily Mile at the Caring and Sharing Learning School in Gainesville, Florida.

Setting aside just 15 minutes a day to walk or run led to improvements in lung function among a group of elementary schoolchildren after only three months, a team of University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions faculty and student researchers found.

While the health benefits that resulted from exercise were not entirely a surprise, says the study’s lead author Arch Mainous III, Ph.D., “It was very gratifying that in a relatively short period of time and in a noninvasive, nonintensive program, we could still see positive health effects.”

For the study, which was published in the journal Family Medicine, UF researchers evaluated the pulmonary function of children who participated in a daily 15-minute exercise period of walking, jogging or running outside from September to December 2022. The children who participated in the daily exercise improved their lung function more than 10% during the fall semester, while children at a comparison school in the same community that did not participate in the program saw no difference in lung function.

The findings suggest that such daily exercise programs could be a practical way to link advice from the medical community with the existing structure of the school system, said Mainous, a professor of health services research, management and policy in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the vice chair for research in the UF College of Medicine’s department of community health and family medicine.

“Physicians may tell parents that it would be good for their child to get more exercise, but without specific instructions on how and when to build in exercise, it can be hard for parents to know where to start,” Mainous said. “Programs like this can help create a connection between health providers and schools as a way to encourage daily exercise.”

The UF study drew upon The Daily Mile, an initiative started in the U.K. and now in 94 countries that encourages children to run or jog at their own pace for 15 minutes during the school day.

“The Daily Mile and other programs that promote sports and exercise participation benefit kids by improving not only their physical fitness, but also their social engagement with peers,” said Ara Jo, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors and a clinical assistant professor in the PHHP department of health services research, management and policy.

Although the UF study did not report on psychosocial benefits of the daily exercise, teachers and administrators at the Caring and Sharing Learning School in Gainesville, where the intervention was conducted, noted improved relationships between students and teachers, who encouraged the students and walked or jogged alongside them.

“I think The Daily Mile helps students form more close relationships with their peers. And because they get to spend more time with their friends, I see more bonding,” said third-grade teacher Janae Williams. “I think this will help over time to decrease bullying and build more connection and empathy among the students. Especially since at our school, we do The Daily Mile across all grades, so younger students can get mentored by older ones.”

The UF study was funded, in part, by the INEOS ICAN Foundation. In addition to Mainous and Jo, the study team included Rachel Bennett, a former doctoral student in health services research, as well as recent Master of Public Health graduates Jasmine Essa, Sean Keck and Sean Sauer.

About the author

Jill Pease
Communications Director, College of Public Health and Health Professions

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