There’s no question that physical activity is healthy and good for kids. But if running is your child’s sport of choice, there’s no clear-cut answer when it comes to what’s the right age to give it a go.
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The good news, according to Gary Calabrese, DPT, Senior Director of Sports Therapy, is that if your child is the one excited and asking (or begging) to run, let them. Just keep a few general safety guidelines:
Children’s bodies are still trying to figure out the mechanics of motion and coordination. Consider these age guidelines if your child is begging to run or join a race:
7-year-olds and under
Look for “fun runs” or races between 1 and 2 miles or a 100-yard dash. These should be short runs, not long or extended. Training for this age group should be around one or two days a week. Race time should not be important to this age group.
Tweens’ normal development changes allows them to adapt to longer training. This is an appropriate age group to safely participate in a 5K (3.10 miles). Training should be around three or four days a week.
Younger teenagers can safely attempt 10Ks (6.2 miles) or a half marathon (13.1 miles). Training can be upwards of every other day, or even every day as long as there is appropriate recovery time.
Most marathons have a minimum age requirement. The minimum is typically between 16 and 18-years-old and may require parent consent. Smaller races might have younger age requirements, so be sure to check before committing to the race.
“Nobody agrees on exactly how much running should be done when kids are young, but one thing we do all agree on is that activity is important,” Calabrese says.
And it’s not just the physical activity that’s a benefit to kids getting involved in running. Of course, that part is great. But it can also help the child develop a healthy lifestyle ― especially later down the road. Running often goes hand-in-hand with nutrition, such as thinking about what’s good to eat before, during and after a workout.
Running is also a good way for children to learn how to set goals and push themselves in a safe manner, Calabrese notes. It can help with both short-term and long-term confidence because they can see improvement and achieve goals.
If your child has his or her heart set on running, consider it a chance to spend time together ― and an opportunity for you to get some physical activity too.
“I recommend that parents ride their bikes along while the child jogs,” Calabrese says. “Or take the child to a track or big, open park so you can watch them. Or better yet, walk or jog with them.”
And since distance and time shouldn’t be a factor, you should always be able to see your child running.
Use this as an opportunity to achieve goals together and to bond, Calabrese says.
Parents who are already runners just need to be aware of the demand that their current fitness level would play on the child. Children aren’t adults, so don’t expect them to keep up with you.
Lastly: Keep in mind that motivation is crucial for your child. You shouldn’t be dragging them out to go run just because you like to. It has to be a fun, no-pressure environment.