Kids on the Run: The New Trend in Family-Friendly Fitness

In the last decade, kids 5Ks and mini-triathlons have experienced a boom. But is introducing kids to a something as intense as distance running safe?

Advantages over other sports
“Running by itself sometimes gets a bad rap because people worry that its too much stress,” says Dr. Halstead. “But then you have kids 3 and 4 years old out on the soccer field taking soccer lessons. And research shows that a soccer player can run up to 5 miles in a single game, so its really not so different.”

Plus, running can offer something to kids—especially kids who arent athletically inclined or who are overweight—that a lot of other sports cant: The chance to be physically active at their own pace.

“Team sports, especially youth sports in the last five or ten years, tend to be highly competitive,” Dr. Halstead says. “With running, you can make it as intense or as casual as you want. Its a good place for kids who are obese, who may not feel comfortable in a team sport environment, to start out to lose weight.”

Runners of all ages, in fact, embrace the sport for its accessibility and relatively low price tag: Instead of having to learn complicated rules or buy lots of expensive equipment, all you really need to get started is a good pair of shoes and a desire to put one foot in front of the other.

More than just physical benefits
Carol Goodrow, a teacher and childrens author and illustrator in Sturbridge, Mass., knows firsthand how running can have an impact on kids lives—both physically and mentally.

Shortly after Goodrow became a runner in the 1990s (inspired by her grown son, who regularly competed in triathlons), she began incorporating running into her first- and second-grade classroom curriculum.

The kids collected runners bib numbers from around the world, and used them in math and geography lessons. As part of class, they ran outside almost every day and then wrote in their journals afterward.

“I noticed the kids who were reluctant writers were suddenly writing after their runs,” says Goodrow. “They had something new and different and fresh in their minds, and they wanted to express it.”

Shes also seen how running can bring children and parents together, especially as the sport has become more popular in the last decade. When she started a weekend running club for her students in 2004, parents showed up to the end-of-season fun run but didnt participate.

“Now, I am hard pressed to find one parent who is not running with their kids,” says Goodrow, who has also helped design and edit kids' running websites presented by Runner's World and “If I want one volunteer to direct traffic, Ill have to beg someone to sit out. And the kids really get a lot of joy out of exercising with their parents—thats what really keeps them going.”

Amy DeVita signed up her son Michael, 9, for a kids once-a-week running group in their hometown of West Orange, N.J., because “he has an awful lot of energy,” she says. Michael originally hoped the practice would make him faster on the basketball court, but now that hes run two 5Ks with his father, he enjoys running for other reasons as well.

“Hes the kind of kid who has trouble really concentrating on one thing, but he concentrates on this,” says DeVita. “Sometimes he complains that hes tired or his legs are sore, but when he sees the finish line, hes psyched. You can tell he feels a real sense of accomplishment and a real sense of commonality with his dad.”

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Amanda MacMillan
Last Updated: August 30, 2009

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