Kids on the Run – The New York Times


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Organizers of Global Running Day hope to have a million children pledge to run in the Million Kid Run on June 1. The event, spearheaded by the New York Road Runners and supported by other running groups, is one of many new programs aimed at getting children involved in the sport with the hope of making physical activity a part of their daily lives — safely.

There is no hard and fast rule for when kids can start running, said Dr. Danelle Fisher, the chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teenagers should not be encouraged to run full marathons, and many races already restrict entry by age. Runners must be 12 years old to run one of the New York Road Runners’ half-marathons and 18 to run the New York City Marathon.

Girls on the Run, a national organization that sponsors running programs culminating in a 5K, works with girls from third through eighth grade. Elizabeth Kunz, its chief executive, says the program starts when most girls are 8 years old, in part because research published in 2008 in JAMA showed that children’s physical activity starts to drop off at age 9, especially for girls.

“There’s an important connection between activity and the impact it has on your mental health, particularly with girls who struggle more with depression and anxiety,” Ms. Kunz said.

“It’s important not only to give kids the opportunity to enjoy the joy of running, but to also create the next generation of runners to be part of the running community,” said Michael Capiraso, president and chief executive of the New York Road Runners. “It gives them a feeling of being able to feel good about themselves through just being able to accomplish something like a quarter of a mile or mile, whatever the pace may be.”

Programs like these make running a group activity instead of an individual sport, which a recent study from Tufts University found can encourage fitness. In the study, published this month in Health Promotion Practice, researchers recorded how many 20-meter laps children ages 8 through 14 could run at the start and end of a nine-month, twice a week, community-based physical activity program. On average, kids added four laps to how much they could run, though their body mass index didn’t change much in the same period of time.

“Even if kids don’t lose weight, if we can get them more fit, there’s a real benefit,” said Daniel Hatfield, a specialist for engagement and analytics at ChildObesity180, a Tufts initiative. He also works with Billion Mile Race, a program started by Tufts and New Balance in the fall of 2015 to get kids in more than 5,000 schools to walk and run more.

Most major races for adults also offer a children’s run on the weekend of the race, like the one-mile fun run held the day before the Marine Corps Marathon in and around Washington, D.C. This year, Road Runners added a Girls’ Run — a 2.25-mile run in Central Park for girls ages 7 to 18 — to coincide with the New York Mini 10K.

Introducing kids to running should be a gradual and supervised process, Dr. Fisher said. Parents should encourage them to start with shorter distances, and make sure that they get fitted for proper footwear, which can be done at a specialty running store. Because children’s skeletons are immature, parents should look out for knee, lower leg and foot injuries as a sign that a child has taken on too much too fast.

And as with any youth sport, parents should make sure it’s fun for their children. “If they’re super miserable and it’s not their thing, we shouldn’t push them,” Dr. Fisher said. “If they’re excited and they love it?” She says that parents should let them run on.

Kids can pledge to run in the Million Kid Run at globalrunningday.org and find events to join.

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”

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