The tripling in the number of obese children and teens over the last thirty years poses a major threat. A multitude of programs, including Let’s Move, are active to combat this epidemic, and all programs include regular exercise as a key part of their approach. Running is recognized as an excellent form of aerobic exercise. It is easy to do, requiring little expense, and yields an excellent calorie burn.
An average 150 lb adult running at 5 mph pace for an hour is estimated to burn between 500-600 calories.
As appealing as running is either as a stand-alone activity or as part of an overall conditioning program, there are risks for children. Runners, coaches, and athletic trainers are aware of injury risk with running. In addition, this injury risk is even greater in children compared to adults.
A recent study spanning 13 years found a 34% increase in emergency room visits for running related injuries. Sprains and strains, mainly in the ankle, constituted the majority of injuries. However, more serious injuries including broken bones occurred in about 15% of children. Older teens, ages 15-18, suffered the majority of injuries in the report; however, children as young as age six also suffered injuries.
The balance between the need for regular activity and prevention of injury is a delicate balance. Children and teens have extra challenges compared to adults in any type of running or exercise activity. Growing children and teens are unable to handle as much stress to their bone and soft tissues. Micro-trauma injury to bone, tendon, and muscles take a toll on young bodies, and over-use injuries arising from micro-trauma injuries are reported in 50% of adolescent athletes.
As a parent, you can help your son or daughter benefit from running specifically as well as any form of regular exercise by following a few simple steps.
Take it slow
Excess exercise can be just as bad for the body as no exercise. Warm up of muscles for at least 5 minutes before an activity. Rest and slow progression in exercise intensity are also key expert recommendations. Increase running mileage by 10% per week. Current athletic training recommendations for student athletes include at least one day off from training per week. Rest periods of 2-3 months in a year from intense training for student athletes are recommended for prevention of injury and burn-out.
Improve strength and coordination
Recruitment of all muscle groups in the body has been recognized as an injury prevention measure. Strengthening muscle groups, particularly core muscle groups provide stability and assistance to main muscle groups. Lastly, coordination, and balance are recognized as early skills vital to prevent falls or other serious injuries.
Cool down and stay loose
Slowing down is important at both the start and end of any physical activity. Children should slow down after exercise with a cool-down activity lasting at least 5 minutes. Stretching exercises in children are an often over-looked part of fitness that help maintain and improve flexibility.
The benefits of lifelong physical activity are multitude. Fostering these simple habits in your son or daughter will help make exercise fun and rewarding.