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.
A recent review of nearly 100 research studies from 36 countries found that physical activity is associated with improved motor development (e.g., running, jumping, hopping), cognitive development (e.g., language development, executive functioning, attention), psychosocial health (e.g., self-esteem, pro-social behaviour, aggression) and cardiometabolic health (e.g., blood pressure, insulin resistance).
Yet, the latest findings of the ParticipACTION report, gave Canadian kids a D+ grade for their overall level of physical activity, with researchers concluding that only 35 per cent of children from the ages of 5 to 17 are getting the recommended physical activity levels for their age groups. That lack of activity is having dire consequences, with Statistics Canada noting that 30% of children aged 5 to 17 are overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk of asthma, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Sadly, the issue of child inactivity does not look as if it will improve in the near future. Schools across the country have been cutting organized physical education programs and recreational activities, leaving many children without organized outlets to meet their daily physical activity requirements.
The 2018 ParticipACTION Report found that only 48% of schools in Canada report having a fully implemented policy to provide physical education to all students. In Ontario alone, the non-profit group People for Education found that only 39% of elementary schools in the province have full-time health and physical education teachers.
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, and muscle-and bone-strengthening activities, should be incorporated at least 3 days per week.
Given the reduced daily physical activity children are getting at school, 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 or have access to funds and 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.
Three steps to get your child running:
- While running is one of the least expensive sports to participate in (no facility fees, uniforms, equipment, etc.) it is important to ensure your child has a good pair of running shoes. If kids (or adults) run wearing ill-fitted or inappropriate shoes, it can cause pain or injury and definitely discourage your child from going on another run.
- Begin a running regime slowly, making sure that the first few runs are short and enjoyable. When the run is over, congratulate and commend your child, regardless of how short the run was. Instill a sense of accomplishment
- Combat boredom by finding new places to run – try local paths or parks, or alternative routes in your house. Have your child participate in developing running routes. Join them on the run if you can or ensure that you can always see them while they are running. Safety is always the priority.
- As your child develops a love for running, enroll them in a local track and field or cross-country club where they can advance their skill and find children their age with similar talents. 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 wellbeing. In the long-term, it helps instill habits that can lead to a healthier future and those prospects alone are worth pulling our children (and ourselves) off the couch and going for a run.