It’s a scary thought that the rise in technology, phones and social media is fuelling a growing epidemic of sedentary, sofa-bound lifestyles of the youth of today.
While previous generations spent their days out fielding on the cricket pitch or running around the netball court, children today are less active, enthralled in an online life which is taking over the world.
It is perhaps no surprise that childhood obesity levels are on the rise again, with 22.2 percent of children starting infant school in Rotherham overweight or obese before their fifth birthdays.
By the time they’re ready to leave primary school, the levels in Rotherham have peaked to 36 percent – that’s over a third of all 11-year-olds overweight or obese.
In a bid to tackle the growing epidemic of overweight and under active young people in South Yorkshire, marathon man Ray Matthews is exercising his new found platform in the community by championing an initiative for all schoolchildren to run or walk one mile every day.
Better health, better learning
Having heard about the project which has been successful in Scotland, Ray is trialling the scheme at Sitwell Junior School in Whiston, as well as Doncaster’s Norton Junior School.
Along with improving health, fitness and well-being of the children, Ray hopes that his Run a Mile a Day programme will encourage better behaviour and learning amongst the children while helping them to become more focused and resilient.
When the teacher thinks the time is right, such as during a period of low concentration, the class will down their pencils and gather outside for a short burst of exercise along the school’s dedicated one-mile track.
Simple, easy, free
Unlike a normal PE lesson, there’s no special kit or equipment needed and no staff training involved; every child can take part, running or walking in their uniforms. It’s one the simplest, easiest and cost-effective ways to tackle childhood obesity.
“Every runner will know the feeling when you cross the finish line after months of training. I want the kids to appreciate that too and feel like they’ve achieved something.
“There will always be the sporty kids who will zoom round the track as quick as they can. But I want the teachers to try and develop team work skills by encouraging the more athletic to help those who aren’t as fast or able to complete the mile, too,” Ray says.
After they’ve finished the mile, its back to the classroom, rosy cheeks and all, receptive and ready to learn. Teachers are invited to join in too, with their physical activity levels low due to long days at work meaning less gym time.
Who is Ray Matthews?
Having being catapulted into to the spotlight through his epic 75 marathons in 75 days challenge as part of his 75th birthday celebrations, Ray is no stranger to defying the odds. He once ran 150 miles in one go.
But starting boxing at ten-years-old, Ray says it was the discipline and self-motivation of taking up sport young that has helped him achieve his goals.
“I don’t class myself as a great runner and I never win the races I compete in. Yes I’m fit and healthy, but I’m also not superhuman. Nobody’s body can run 50 miles, never mind 150 miles, without the right mental attitude.”
Along with the effort and performance from the pupils, Ray needs the support of parents and enthusiasm from school staff for his mission to be successful.
In Scotland, teachers were surprised to discover that not only did the children’s weight decrease, their social well-being improved, with less bullying, more communication and stronger friendships built.
“If we invest in our children now and educate them about an active healthy lifestyle, we can help raise the aspirations bar higher and inspire them to take up other activities such as tennis, kick boxing or dance.
“Improving their current lifestyles will set them up with the skills and mindset to enhance their own futures and quality of life, rather than just sitting around waiting for things to happen or their health to deteriorate.”
While every child grows differently, and of course not all are overweight, Ray is looking for ways to measure Sitwell School’s success rates to provide information to the rest of the country of its benefits.
“You don’t need a barometer to reassure me it will work. I know it will. But the dream would be to have all schools in Rotherham, South Yorkshire and even the country running a mile a day. Then we’ll make a start on the parents and get them to run with their kids to school, but they don’t know that yet.”
An ambassador for Age UK Rotherham, Ray is also looking to close the gap between the young and old in the community by dispelling the myth that there are things you shouldn’t be doing past a certain age.
He’s proved that even in his 70s, over ten weeks of consecutive marathons is achievable.
His plight to provide the students at Newman School in Whiston with an even better quality of life at school comes in to force this summer with the adventure woodland path being laid early August.
Along with bird boxes, squirrel platforms and a bug hotel, the soft track path will allow those children who’ve never been in the woods due to wheelchair restrictions to be at one with nature. There are also plans for wheelchair-friendly swings and roundabouts with a soft cushioned floor to prevent any accidents.
As if his diary isn’t already full of important meetings, visits and runs, Ray has been approached by Disneyland Paris through Take Me to the Magic to take part in a running event next year at the theme park.
“We are hatching plans to take the children from Newman School to the park, too. It would be brilliant to have them all there to experience the magic of Disney.”