Elaine Wyllie, a now retired teacher at a school in Stirling (Scotland), warned in 2012 that the children were in worse shape than in previous years. One morning, she made her students run a lap of a nearby school. She found that the majority couldn’t complete it, but after repeating the exercise every day, they were all able to do four laps of the park, a distance of around a mile (1.6 kilometres). That was how The Daily Mile project was born.
Now, hundreds of schools across the UK have adopted the idea over the last few years and Benalmádena has been chosen for the first steps towards introducing the scheme to Andalucía. To begin with it has been launched in three public-funded schools: La Paloma, El Tomillar and Jacaranda.
The more than 1,600 students run around a kilometre and a half each day around the playground, without this disrupting their school timetables or the need for special clothing.
The initiative, organised by the town hall in collaboration with the Junta de Andalucía and the Costa del Sol health district, has been set up as a pilot scheme with the hope that it will be implemented in other schools around the region in the coming months.
The lap can be done either as a race or walking. The principal objective is to cut down on childhood inactivity and obesity, with figures from the regional Ministry of Health showing that 45 per cent of schoolchildren are overweight.
Mayor, Víctor Navas, and provincial heads of Education, Patricia Alba, and Health, Ana Isabel González, visited El Tomillar school in Arroyo de la Miel last week, where the project is already up and running.
This is not the only project aimed at tackling obesity in Benalmádena, though. For several months, health centres have been able to refer patients to the town’s Sports Trust, where trainers devise specialised exercise and dietary plans based on the doctor’s recommendation and their own check-up.
Headteacher at El Tomillar school, Antonio Gallardo, believes that the new project has improved students’ “physical health as well as their social and emotional wellbeing”. He believes it has also contributed “in a positive way” to their academic achievement.
For its part, the regional government has recognised that Benalmádena “is one of the pioneering municipalities” of the Local Network for Action in Health (Relas) in Andalucía, citing other initiatives such as the ‘Caminando por un reto’ challenge. This brought together more than 2,000 people last year, of whom the majority were schoolchildren, to chalk up the distance between Benalmádena and New York among them all.
At present, the World Health Organisation estimates that 85 per cent of those aged five to 17 don’t do the recommended hour of physical activity a day - but Benalmádena town hall is hoping to change that.