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Our children don’t get enough exercise. This may be hard to believe if you have an elementary schooler who is constantly racing around your home, jumping on the bed, and spinning around in circles, but 74% of children between ages 5 and 10 get less than 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

One easy way to increase your children to get more exercise and improve their cardiovascular health, though, is by encouraging them to run.

Your kids can run anywhere, from the park or backyard to around the block or along trails in the woods, and the most important thing you can do to encourage your children to run – or when building other healthy habits – is to make it fun.

Some kids will get bitten by the running bug, but even the ones who don’t will build a healthy foundation that will serve them in other athletic endeavors and teach focus and commitment.

Running Safety

Besides scraped knees, running is a fairly safe form of physical activity; unlike many popular children’s sports, such as soccer, football, and baseball, there’s no contact and no badly aimed balls.

To prevent running-related injuries, though, there are a number of things you can do, the first of which is to ensure your children’s sneakers fit properly.

When fitting children’s running shoes, encourage them to walk and jog around the store, check for space in the toe box, and make sure the shoes offer proper support for their foot shape.

Kids with flat feet will need different shoes than those with high arches, for example, and improperly fitted shoes can cause pain, blisters, and increase the likelihood your child will fall, sprain their ankle, or otherwise be injured.

Make A Game

Running is an integral part of many favorite children’s games, so don’t insist that your child run on a track or go trail running. Instead, encourage them to participate in running-based games, like the land adaptation of Sharks & Minnows, a favorite swimming game, old standards like tag, and various relay races.

You can also create games that mix running with other forms of physical activity, such as jumping, skipping, and hopping, or create an obstacle course.

Join A Group

Many adults are solo runners, but kids are more likely to run with others, whether they’re playing a game or training for a race. If your child seems to enjoy running, consider looking for a local running group of team.

Many major cities are home to clubs like Girls On The Run, a non-profit that promotes health, confidence, and positive body image among girls, while schools and community have track teams starting as young as early elementary school.

Supporting Super Runners

As with any other sport, some kids turn out to be passionate about running; your child may even declare they want to run a marathon. Before you help your child commit to such an enormous undertaking, though, it’s important to support your child in mastering the basics.

They can’t run a marathon, for example, without developing proper running form, which decreases the likelihood of injuries, and of course, they need to complete many shorter races before building up to greater distances.

Improper training can also lead to overuse injuries, particularly those involving the growth plates.

Running is a sport that can grow with your children, that will give them an advantage in many other aspects of life, and in which they will always be their own toughest competitor – but don’t push too hard. Some kids are super runners, and some will trot along at their own speed.

As a parent, your primary goal should simply be to encourage overall health through diet and exercise. Running supports that goal. Beyond that, let your child follow their passions across the finish line.