Fatter or Fitter Children – Running for healthier them or Olympic champions?

I remember with pride the day my son Angad did not listen to my advice of running slow in the beginning and came 1st in Independence day run 2016 in a local gully (Street) event. A year before that when he was racing ahead of all but vomited due to fast running and lactate (L) buildup in a little long run for his endurance, I understood a child eagerness to start fast in order to stay ahead without knowing the difference between a sprint and long run distance mechanics. This time the organizers reduced the distance (I was unaware and thinking distance same as last year format), and I advised him slow running in the beginning, and hence it was good he did not follow my advice, ran fast like a sprinter and became champion before the “L” build up could start. I have never seen him more excited than the moment he knew he had won. Just the look on his face was priceless. I was very proud. My only dilemma is that now he wants to race all the time.

Angad

A future Olympic champion? Or is Angad only going through a phase, soon to pass on to swimming or lawn-tennis, car racing videogame, even girls? Hopefully, Angad Aggarwal will maintain his interest in running and/or other forms of exercise through a long and healthy life, but the sad fact is that too many of our children are getting fatter, rather than fitter. I still remember the day when Angad was age four (now 7), and asked me, “Can I be a runner too?”

Blame television and video games and car-pooling kids to school instead of having them walk, but our school systems also have failed abysmally in providing exercise opportunities during the admittedly crowded school day. Because of budget crunches, physical education programs have been all but eliminated (along with art and music) in many school systems.

The children’s running is on the rise. A growing minority of running parents and their children have discovered that fitness can be fun. More and more road races have begun to add side events for youngsters. In NCR, each summer and winter, around 700-1000 children participate in a Kidsathon and Super Hero Runs respectively, organized by http://www.pikusports.com. There are other organizers as well. Normally these runs are for distances of few hundred meters to 5KMs.

Kidsathon_2

But is running good for children? Can running while young stunt growth or cause injuries? And even if there is no physical damage, what about psychological damage? Will children forced to train by overeager running parents lose interest in the sport by the time they reach the age when it might do them the best?

Dr. Metzl (who has run 13 marathons, Boston seven times) says this is particularly true at puberty: between 8 and 12 for girls and 10 and 14 for boys. “There is some risk that excessive running can damage the growth plates,” he admits. “As to what is ‘excessive,’ there’s no research that would provide us with an exact number. I’m comfortable with children running distances up to 5-K and 10-K, if they’re properly trained. I’m not a believer in kids under 18 running marathons, and those under 14 should probably stay on the down side of 13 miles.” Nevertheless, Dr. Metzl agrees that the positive aspects of running so outweigh the negative risks that running parents should do everything possible to inspire their children to take up running and other forms of exercise. The link between obesity and other illnesses is strong; cardiovascular disease has been diagnosed even in teenagers. A child training for a 5-K is probably going to be less tempted to experiment with cigarettes or drugs or to hang around with “friends” who climb into a car after downing a six-pack of beer. Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D. suggests that a healthy lifestyle that includes appropriate amounts of exercise can add six to nine years to your life and contribute greatly to the quality of that life.

So, if your children have expressed an interest in running, don’t discourage them! Running is a great natural sport that requires very little equipment. They should determine their own pace and run only if it’s fun and enjoyable. And as a parent or supervisor make sure that you keep these point in mind before they get started.

  1. Be aware of your child physical limitations. Consult your physician before your child attempts any longer say over 2 KM distance or participates in any running program.
  2. Make sure they keep their postures right. I will talk more about running form, postures and cadence in next article.
  3. Do not make them start with barefoot running. Invest in a high-quality shoe that is made for running, with proper cushioning in the forefoot and heel, as well as arch support. Replace running shoes as soon as they show signs of breakdown, which, depending on how much your child runs, could occur after about 5-6 months.
  4. Make sure that they drink plenty of water and avoid running in the heat of the day.
  5. Show them how to dynamically stretch their muscles i.e. calves, hip flexors and hamstrings before the running and a proper cooling down session at the end of each run.
  6. Encourage your child to relax while running – no tightness in face muscles and clenched fists which indicate tension, and usually means the intensity is too high and the child is straining rather than having fun. Please remember running is a natural action, most children will develop their own form.
  7. Let them run at easy, conversational pace – they should be able to carry on a conversation while running and should be able to smile. Urge them to slow down if necessary and keep their shoulders relaxed while steadily and smoothly swinging their arms forward and back and not across their body.

How Far Should They Go?

Children should run only as far as they are comfortable. Children will gauge their own limitations, so always listen when they say it’s time to stop.  Kids should not begin running races above 5 Kms until they cross 14-15 age. Most marathons will not allow athletes under the age of 18 to enter due to possible skeletal injuries.

Set Attainable Goals

For children, the goal of running is to stay in shape and have fun! Instead of focusing on winning races, help improve your children’s self-esteem by praising their efforts and helping them reach their goals. Chances are that if they enjoy running and feel a sense of pride when they are finished, they will remain active for life.

Angad, in a zeal to run longer, did almost 10Km (walking and running) with me in last week of December in Share and Care week when we were running to support a cause of collecting old usable sports gears for less privileged athletes. I had to make sure his pure running does not exceed more than 3-4 Kms. And now whenever I head out for a group run on weekend, he comes and asks me, “Hey, Papa (Dad), when you go for a run in morning, can I join you for last 3-4 Kms run again?”

Guess my reply. Keep running and exercising for celebrating life with good health!

Sumeet Aggarwal

Senior Knowledge Manager at Cadence Design Systems
ISSA Fitness Trainer and Founder of Xpress Fitness and Running
Website: https://xpressfitnessandrunning.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/XpressFitessRunning

Sources used in the article: https://www.acefitness.org and http://www.halhigdon.com

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