Starting a running program with your kids

Set your kids off on the right foot, make it fun by participating in Splash ‘n’ Dash

Our kids argue about everything we ask them to do.

But earlier this month, when my wife and I asked if they wanted to go to the local high school track, they were in the car before we had even changed clothes. We went with a plan to run and they went to have fun, to show us how fast they are and to play with the starting blocks.

In fact, after our planned 3-mile run was up, they were just as sweaty from racing each other on the straightaways. Before we made it home, they asked when they could go again.

Research shows that regular family activity will model for kids that being active can be fun. In the long run, it also will make them fitter, healthier and happier adults.

Regular aerobic exercise helps kids’ bones strengthen, aids in weight control and leads to improved cardiovascular health into adulthood.

With a surge in community running events, what should parents know about running to ensure their kids set off on the right foot?

“At a young age, running should be fun. If parents want to set goals, make sure they are easily attainable,” said Jameel T. Clark, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Dixie.

Dr. Clark adds that allowing children to dictate speed and location of runs also will give them the best chance of enjoying it and avoiding injury.

Experts at the Road Runners Club of America say distance running should be limited before puberty. Because their bodies are still growing, kids who run intensely in youth may not grow properly and may sustain injuries. They offer these age guidelines for running:

  • Ages 5 and under: Encourage active play and allow children to participate in “dash” events. Kids this age can run from a few yards up to 1 mile.
  • Ages 5 to 8. Children in this age group may be able to run a .5 mile to 2 miles using a walk/run method.
  • Ages 8 to 12. During these years, many kids are ready to start running longer distances, up to a 5k with walk breaks. Some kids may even be ready for more structured training, but it shouldn’t last more than 2 to 3 months.
  • Ages 13 to 17. Once kids hit puberty, most are physically and emotionally capable of taking on longer distances, up to a half marathon.