I am an avid trail runner, doing anything from 5K to 50K events. My daughter, soon to be 9, has expressed an interest in running and competing as well. I’m happy to have her join me out on the trails and would of course start her off with a slow and gentle build up with good shoes for doing some of the local road and trail 5Ks… but I wanted to see if there were any concerns or maybe even benefits from sustained running for young growing bodies. The kids can run around the yard for hours at a time in short sprints during play, but rarely do they run more than 100 yards or so in a single, steady effort.
How great it is to see your child modeling your behavior and wanting to develop a healthy, active lifestyle!
We all want our children to be active, and running is an excellent exercise to keep us healthy. BUT — how MUCH running is healthy? How YOUNG is too young for distance running?
These are tricky questions to answer.
Unfortunately, there is quite a controversy and not a lot of scientific-based information to guide us in regard to children and distance running.
We know that running is good for kids. It makes their bodies stronger, more flexible, and decreases their risk of obesity and disease. It decreases stress, increases self-esteem and improves academic performance. It improves sleep quality and decreases anxiety. It can help develop goal setting, achievement and sportsmanship.
We also know that children are not small adults. They are growing and maturing at different rates. Their motor coordination is still developing. They have different body mechanics when running compared to adults. Some have argued that their growing bones are less resilient to the repetitive stress of long distance running. So we need to be mindful of overuse injuries. However — there are NO studies demonstrating any long term negative effects of distance running in children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on overuse injuries, “There is no reason to disallow participation of a young athlete in a properly run marathon as long as the athlete enjoys the activity and is asymptomatic.”
So here are some guidelines to make running safe and to avoid overuse injuries:
1. Make sure the athlete is self-motivated — if they want to run, let them run.
2. Teach them to listen to their body. If something hurts, stop running. Maybe they need to stretch more or cross-train. Maybe they need new running shoes, which should be replaced every 300-500 miles depending on how you run.
3. Limit running to 5 days per week and only increase mileage by 10% each week.
4. Pay attention to hydration, diet, your gear and the weather.
5. Make sure children continue to grow on their normal height and weight curves. For teenage girls — make sure their menstrual cycles are regular.
6. MOST IMPORTANTLY – FOCUS ON THE FUN!!
Running is an excellent lifetime sport. It can be a great way to bond with friends and family. Hopefully it will be the start of a passion that will provide many challenges and rewards!
***Do you have a non-urgent, clinical or otherwise (but nothing personal!) question for your Pediatric Alliance doctor or provider? Send an email with your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer them and post them on The PediaBlog. You don’t have to include your child’s name, but an idea of their age is helpful. Also, please include the name of the division you go to and your doctor’s or provider’s name.
Ask us anything! (But, please, no urgent or semi-urgent questions — we may not get to your question right away. If your child is sick, or you have acute concerns, please call our offices and speak with our triage staff.)