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According to the CDC, the obesity rate has quadrupled in the past 30 years. And, with the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation (especially within children), it is more important than ever to teach kids about health and exercise. Children are extremely impressionable and often imitate what parents do, thus making it immensely important to instill healthy perceptions of fitness early in life. Running is an exercise that can be done for the duration of our lives, thus making it just one of the many reasons we should be encouraging our kids run.
Our society tends to focus too much on what a person looks like, tainting the image of a healthy body. Instead of harping on having the perfect body or looking a certain way; teach your child(ren) the importance of why exercise coupled with a healthy diet is so crucial to longevity, overall health, and happiness.
Encouraging Kids to Run
Regular aerobic exercise helps strengthen bones, aides in weight control, and leads to better heart health later in life. The sooner parents instill a healthy lifestyle in kids, the more likely these skills will become a habit. The best way to do this is by setting an example and working out with your child. The bond between parent and children is strengthened by interacting during activities. Running is not only an activity you can do now with your child, it’s something you can do together for the rest of your lives. Think of it as a lifelong bonding activity. Another benefit of running is, relatively speaking, it is safer than other sports. You don’t have to worry about concussions, broken arms, or lost teeth as with other contact sports. Finally, running also costs nothing, you can do it anywhere, with anyone; all you need is a pair of shoes. Simply put, it is the most universal exercise.
Stages to Incorporate Running
Head to any playground and you will find kids running: playing chase, hide n’ seek, or simply running from one activity to another. Kids love running but helping to foster the idea of running for exercise as a lifelong habit takes a little more work.
Start young when your baby is still in a jogger; set an example for kids, “Hey, Mommy runs with me, I wanna run like Mommy one day.” Kids can see the importance of running through their parent’s eyes. They are able to run before they can move on their own; exploring the world by observing from the seat of a jogging stroller.
Remember, play is the most important form of exercise. Use running incorporated into play, by playing games such as tag, red light green light, or even duck duck goose; by participating, your kids will learn subconscious running skills. The idea is for running to be less structured, no pressure, free-form, and fun. If your child is interested, start setting small, attainable goals, possibly completing a mile or run/walk a 5k.
It is also important to teach the basics of running: stretching, warm up, and cool down. Let them guide how long to run but offer encouragement. Teach children the importance of pacing themselves, rather than sprinting at first, leaving little energy for the rest of the run.
Dive deeper into the basics of running, teaching form and technique. Reiterate the importance of pace, teach them about stride and flexibility. Explain the importance of stopping when you are in pain, and how proper mechanics can correct many running issues. Allow kids to naturally work up their endurance, speed, and distance.
Create a running schedule that you and your child can complete together. Have goals and enter fun races together. Incorporate bodyweight strength training activities as well as proper stretching or yoga programs. Make sure they know it’s not about first place, but about a healthy lifestyle choice. Encourage and reinforce improvements in skill sets – technique, form, endurance, speed, etc. Always set and encourage realistic goals.
At this stage, your child will be able to tackle most of running on their own. Continue to offer encouragement and support. Let them lead the way and see where running takes them. Teenage years can be tough mentally and physically on your child. Running can help build their confidence and promote a positive body image. Remember, don’t try to push your dreams on your child. Finally, continue to be a positive role model by maintaining running as part of your daily routine. Go on runs together or enter a race. And most importantly, have fun!
Running All Over the Nation?
Now that we’ve got you hooked on the idea of running, here are examples of organized children’s runs all across the nation.
Fleet Feet Mini Milers
This program is designed to help teach young runners the basics of running. The first practice, kids will run an initial mile, serving as a goal for the season. Practices incorporate games, stretching, relays, and other activities to make running more appealing and fun. The program encourages parents to participate as well. The final event will be a family fun day, consisting of kids trying to beat their original mile time.
Just Run is a web-based fitness program designed to get kids moving! This program can be used for kids of all ages and can be done in or outside of school. The program helps parents or teachers coordinate a fun, non-competitive running program.
This program is designed to help kids ages K-7 complete a half or full marathon, one mile at a time. Training is broken down into a four, six, or eight week program. Kids are taught the importance of training according to their own endurance and experience level. At the end of the program, participants will come together to complete their final mile on the official Rock n’ Roll marathon race day.
This program is designed to help kids adopt a “Get up and Go” attitude. The series is a five week program that takes place during the spring and fall. Kids from Pre-K to 8th grade are encouraged to participate. The distances are broken down by ages and include the 50 yard dash, 1/2 mile, and mile programs.
Fun Runs usually piggyback on adult runs. Children normally run a short distance and receive a trophy upon completion. ‘Running in the USA’ is an excellent website to find local races; look for races that have fun runs and sign both you and your little up and enjoy race day together.
When to Stop?
Encourage your child, but remember they are children, don’t push them. Don’t expect them to run farther or faster every day – make the experience fun – appreciate the joy of exercise. Always express how proud you are!
Interested in learning more about the benefits of running for not only your little but also for yourself? Check out 13 Benefits of Running.
Photo Credit: Ashley Wells