Running is a great way for kids and adults to get exercise and get in shape. Programs like Girls on the Run are becoming more available and help kids get started with this fantastic sport.
Parents and patients will always ask in my office about the best way to get started with running but, more often they will come in because of injuries that happen from improper running or related aches and pains. It seems so simple, “I should just go for a run!” But there is some thought and planning that should go in to getting off of the couch and getting ready for cross country, track or just simply running for fun/exercise.
Running Tips to Help Getting Your Child Started Safely
- Start SLOW—just begin by walking. Gradually build up from walking a bit to jogging. You can alternate at first as you become more comfortable. Start with 4-5 minutes and then build up each day. Websites like Runner’s World and Cool Running have plans on how much to do each day. A good rule of thumb is no more than a 10% increase in mileage per week.
- Warm up and cool down—make it a habit from the beginning to do a slow warm up (light walk and active stretching) and cool down (good stretching routine). This will help get blood flowing to the muscles as you get started, and decrease the risk of injury.
- Vary the running surface—Mix it up! Try some runs on pavement or trails, and some on the treadmill. You can figure out what surface works best and is most fun for you.
- Take time off—Don’t run every day, ever. Even high level runners need to take at least one day off per week. It is good to take one day of rest and even do other activities or sports on another day.
- Find a partner—it is always more motivating and fun to have someone to run with. Mom or Dad make great partners for their kids. They can make sure that kids are safe and help them achieve goals of distance, etc. It can help keep the whole family healthy.
The Importance of Setting Goals
I always encourage young patients and new runners to set a goal. Pick a fun run (i.e. one mile race) for kids that are just getting started. Kids as young as 5 or 6 can work up to these short distances. As runners get older, they can aim for 5 and 10Ks and progress from there. It is fun to have people cheering you on, and it is great to set a goal and achieve it. There is a lot of camaraderie in running that can help kids make friends and stay in shape. It is also a nice way to spend time as a family that will keep everyone in shape!