Running programs for children take off
The benefits of physical activity for children are numerous. Running can be a fun way to get children to increase their fitness and build a lifelong healthy habit. Here’s how.
Kids benefit from regular physical activity in so many ways—healthier body composition, better bone density, and maybe even improved academic success, to name just a few. With running, kids can be active with minimal cost and low stress while developing a fundamental movement skill, placing them well on their way to a lifetime of active living.
Volunteering at a fun run is a great way for children to get up close to runners of all ages and abilities. Runs organized specifically around a children’s charity are likely to have more young participants, potentially sparking an interest in your own child. If you’re a runner yourself, bring your kids along on race day. While cheering you on they’ll get immersed in the positive atmosphere first-hand.
Grow your child’s interest in running by frequently changing up the routine. Explore different areas such as new neighbourhoods and parks. Consider going on a trail run where you can stop to admire nature, or a beach run followed by a cool-off swim. Themed runs, scavenger hunts, and obstacle courses are other great ways to break up the routine.
With some foresight on the adult’s part, kids can experience success early on in running, which will bode well for a lifelong interest in physical activity. Short-term goals, such as completing an extra lap of a course, are much more effective for children than longer-term goals, such as completing a 2 km race. When communicating with your child on what they did well, be as specific as possible.
Running clubs can be competitive, such as those associated with a university (for example, Dino Youth at the University of Calgary Athletics Club), or casual, such as school-based ones (for example, Start2Finish Run and Read).
Whether the club is casual or competitive, look for a healthy balance of fun and challenge, with an emphasis on safety. Michaela Colluney, kinesiologist and owner of Kids on Track Athletic Development at Body Engineered: Functional Movement Training in Vancouver, advises that coaches need to be aware of individual differences in the physiological (aerobic capacity, for example), psychological, and cognitive development of their athletes.
Safe progress will depend on how well training sessions are structured to meet their level of maturity in these areas. Colluney also recommends that the ratio of coaches to runners not exceed one coach per 12 runners.
Proper running technique can help conserve energy and reduce the risk of injury. Colluney suggests focusing on the key elements—alternating arm and leg action, head facing forward, and running tall. She warns, “It’s important for coaches to understand their limitations and not to overcorrect, as this will most likely have a detrimental effect ... if you don’t know, just let them go!”
For children new to running, it’s most important to ensure their running shoes or cross-trainers fit properly—with a thumbnail distance at the top end of the shoe. Socks that trap moisture and don’t slip, as well as properly tied laces can also go a long way in keeping kids’ feet happy.
|Vancouver Mini Sun Run||April||Vancouver||under 18||2.5 km|
|Little Souls Kids Marathon||May||Lethbridge, Alberta||12 and under||2 km on race day (and the remaining marathon distance in the weeks beforehand)|
|Mud Hero Kids||June to September||Toronto; Ottawa; Montreal; Silver Star Mountain (BC); Red Deer (AB); Grunthal (MB); Debert (NS)||4 to 12||500 m|
|Oasis ZooRun—Cub Run||September||Toronto||2 to 10||800 m|
The benefits of physical activity are many. But to derive the most benefits, current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for five- to 17-year-olds recommend at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. Sadly, less than a quarter of Canadian children are currently reaching this threshold.
Dr. Lee Schofield, a Toronto-based sport and exercise medicine physician, suggests starting off with a well-defined track or course that can be easily tailored to individual abilities, and where the distance can be gradually increased over time. Being mindful of the terrain and timing of runs is also important, adds Schofield—avoid peak sun times, and try to keep the hills and uneven terrain to a minimum.
Pain during running, especially when it persists after the run or into the following day, is a sign that your child should be seen by a doctor, says Schofield. A limp or any noticeable change in walking or running gait shouldn’t be ignored, and neither should any breathing problems during a run, such as wheezing or asthma-type symptoms.