by Randy Brookes
There’s no question that physical activity is crucial for children. Not only does it strengthen a child’s muscles and bones, and prevent excessive weight gain, but it also improves brain function and helps maintain emotional and mental wellbeing.
Yet, the latest findings of the ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth gave Canadian kids a grade of D+ for their overall level of physical activity. Researchers concluded that only 35% of children ages of 5 to 17 are getting the recommended physical activity levels for their age groups. This pattern of inactivity is having dire consequences, with Statistics Canada noting that 30% of 5 to 17 year olds are overweight or obese, putting them at a higher risk of asthma, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The Canadian government has set out 24-hour movement guidelines for children. According to those guidelines, children between the ages of 5 to 17 need an accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Additionally, vigorous physical activities, along with muscle- and bone-strengthening activities, should be incorporated at least three days per week.
Given the trend toward reduced daily physical activity in schools, it’s clear that parents need to take a bigger role in ensuring their children are active and abide by the Canadian guidelines. Yet many parents don’t know where to begin, nor do they have access to the funds and/or time needed to enroll their children in extra-curricular activities outside of school.
That’s where running comes in. Unlike many other sports, there is no skill required to begin a running program. Moreover, running can be less intimidating than competitive sports that are often associated with “winners” and “losers.” Children can run for the fun of it. They can start slowly and compete against themselves, gradually increasing their speed or endurance at their own pace.
Here are three suggested steps to get your child running:
Choose a good pair of running shoes.
Beyond proper athletic footwear, running requires no other facilities, uniforms or equipment. Running in ill-fitted or inappropriate shoes can cause pain or injury and will almost certainly discourage your child from going on another run.
Make sure the first few runs are short and enjoyable. When the run is over, congratulate and commend your child for her accomplishment, regardless of the distance or pace.
Keep it fresh.
Combat boredom by finding new places to run. Try local paths, parks, or alternative routes in your neighbourhood. Invite the kids to participate in developing the route. Join them on the run if you can, or set up a route that ensures you can always see them while they are running.
As your child develops a love for running, consider enrolling him in a local track and field or cross-country club to advance his skills and train with children of a similar age. While running is often a solo sport, the camaraderie that comes from participating in organized running clubs can really help children develop social skills and gain a sense of belonging.
Getting your child excited about physical activity is a sure way to help them improve their health, stimulate their mind and elevate their emotional well-being. In the long term, it helps instill habits that can lead to a healthier future. Those prospects alone are reason enough to pull our children (and ourselves) off the couch and go for a run.
Randy Brookes is a certified running coach and owner of Running For Your Life performance group in Toronto.