As the days get longer and warmer, kids are increasingly motivated to spend time outside, enjoying the fresh air. This is a great opportunity for parents to introduce their children to new healthy habits and exercise. One of the best workouts for kids is the simple act of running. This inexpensive activity requires only a sturdy pair of running shoes and a place to run, like a high school track, a treadmill at a gym or a path in a neighborhood park.
Teaching children about running has many benefits, both physical and psychological. In a country where 25 percent of all children under age 19 are overweight, according to Runners World Magazine, running allows children to reap the benefits of a proven cardiovascular activity, helping to prevent heart problems, promote weight loss, build muscle tone and maintain a healthy body. Children who run have a better body image and, as some studies indicate, are less likely to experiment with cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.
Parents can serve as an excellent model of a healthy lifestyle for their children by encouraging them to run, or even better, running with them. Take advantage of the fact children are natural imitators and use family time as an opportunity to illustrate healthy habits. Running together affords families a shared experience and promotes exercise for both parent and child. A few things parents should remember before children begin running:
- Make sure children are dressed in appropriate attire for the weather. Find out about technical apparel to help regulate body temperature.
- Proper running shoes are the best prevention against injuries. Most running stores have professionals to help ensure a good fit. Also remember to make sure laces are securely tied.
- Both a warm-up and cool-down period are important to avoid injuries and counteract sore muscles. Stretching after a run can also help loosen tight muscles.
- It is essential for children to “not only re-hydrate but they must also remember to pre- hydrate 15-20 minutes before they run,” according to the online series, Family Works. Hydration is even more crucial for children than for adults, because children’s bodies have less ability to regulate internal temperature.
- Start slow and allow children to set the pace, as they may struggle to keep up with adult runners.
- Be aware of how far children are running. According to KidsRunning.com, some children are at risk of growth plate damage when running excessive distances. While there is not an exact definition of what constitutes excessive running, parents should feel comfortable allowing properly trained children to run between 5K-10K (3.1-6.2 miles). Older children can even run up to half marathon distances (13.1 miles).
Running can be more than just a recreational exercise activity. In recent years, the competitive race world has acknowledged the rise in the desire of children to participate in running activities by adding fun runs to their line-up of races.
VA Runner, a local running store, encourages kids to participate in their Grand Prix running events. Participation in these one-mile races can earn awards ranging from hats to shirts, and even running shoes. According to Jeff Van Horn, organizer of the VA Runner Grand Prix and former marathon runner, the goal of his program is to “create awareness among kids to get up, go outside and do something. And ultimately, to make running fun for kids.” Programs like Van Horn’s are designed to encourage participation and completion of running events while taking the focus off finish times and the element of competition.
Other community programs are designed to fulfill children both physically and emotionally. Girls on the Run International is a 12- week program for girls, ages 8-11, in local communities nationwide, including Fairfax, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland. It seeks to prepare participants for a 3.1 mile organized run, as well as allow them to explore relevant issues they face everyday, all in a small group environment. These groups are lead by women of all ages, from 21 to over 60, who serve as a coach and role model.
Children can also find a great running experience in their educational environment. Many schools have running clubs or after school track programs that give children proper instruction on how to be a quicker, safer runner and a healthier athlete. Parents should be sure to ask questions about any coach’s training background to make certain their child is in the care of a trained runner.
The world of running has come a long way from the days when two laps around the gym was a form of punishment. Running provides parents and children a great exercise to do together, encourages children to challenge themselves physically and participate in an activity that can benefit them for years to come. Use the warm weather and longer days to help children spring into healthy habits and experience the lifelong joy of running.
By Beth Cline
Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run, held every October in Arlington, VA on the day prior to the Marine Corps Marathon. Visit www.marinemarathon.com. Beth Cline is a member of the Marine Corps Marathon marketing staff.
For more information about the VA Runner Grand Prix, contact VA Runner at 703-491-4593. To learn more about Girls on the Run, visit their website at www.girlsontherun.org.