How To Teach Your Kids To Love Running and Exercise

Most people reading this will agree that running and exercise has both wonderful physical and mental health benefits. Yet, we also know it can be difficult to motivate others to exercise—including our very own kids.

So, how can we get our kids running and exercising—and love doing it?

This article will help you start your kids running.

Why?

Because starting exercise and running at a young age supplies a host of immediate benefits and sets the foundation for a life of health and happiness. And, of course, as parents, we want nothing more than what’s best for our kids. 

Surely, our kids are little sponges, soaking in our every move, and modeling what we do.

And, while they might start running just to be like us—they may not stick to it, or this interest may be fleeting. 

There is a right and wrong way to harness this innate desire to love to run and move. We want to show you the right way to get your kids running and loving exercise!

In this article we talk with experts to teach you:

  • How much exercise kids need,
  • The benefits of exercise and running for kids,
  • The appropriate age for children to start running,
  • How often children should run a week,
  • Ideas to get your kids physically active,
  • How to run with your kids, and
  • Tips to get your kids to love running and exercise.

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

Related: 21 Things to Know Before You Start Running

teach your kids to love running

How much exercise do kids need?

According to the US’s Centers for Disease Control, preschool-aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day for growth and development. 

Kids ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day, including daily aerobic and activities that strengthen bones like running or jumping 3 days each week, and activities that build muscles, like climbing or doing push-ups, 3 days each week.

Why is exercise important for kids?

Physical activity in your child’s daily routine sets the foundation for a lifetime of fitness and good health. Kids who exercise have:

  • Less screen time.
  • Improved thinking and memory skills, according to the CDC.
  • Improved brain development and function.  
  • Psychosocial health benefits such as perceived competence and confidence, stress relief, anxiety management, and development of key life skills like goal setting, teamwork, and cooperation.

“The areas of the brain that are stimulated during exercise are the same areas of the brain responsible for thinking skills, concentration, focus aka executive function. 

That means higher test scores and better grades,” notes Randy McCoy, a senior executive at The Little Gym.

“A wonderful outcome from these benefits is improved self-confidence and positive self-esteem.” 

teach your kids to love running
The author, Whitney Heins, running with her daughter Eleanor!

What are ways to get my kids physically active? 

You want to make exercise and running fun for kids. Therefore, you can make it a game

Aim for activities that get their blood pumping three times a week for about an hour, and activities that strengthen their muscles and bones at the same weekly dosage. 

Some ideas for physical activity for kids include:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Climbing
  • Monkey bars and playgrounds
  • Freeze tag
  • Sports like soccer and basketball
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Dance parties
  • Sock skating

Get more ideas for physical activity for kids here.

Related: How to Start Running Again After a Break or Injury

teach your kids to love running

At what age can children start running?

A child can start running whenever they feel comfortable, notes Dr. Siddharth Tambar.

“There is not a specific age or mileage that should be adhered to, rather base it on what the child naturally feels comfortable doing,” he advises. 

McCoy suggests that 

  • 3-year-olds can run 50-100 yards,
  • 7- and 8-year-olds can be introduced to running a 5K (3.1 miles),
  • Older kids can run longer based on their preference and motivation.  

“Remember, physical exercise is good, and most children do not get enough of it on a daily basis. Go at a pace that will maintain the interest of the child,” Dr. Tambar advises. 

How often can my child run a week?

McCoy says a frequency of 3 to 4 times a week is a good place to start

“But let your child’s interest level play a part. If they love it and frequently ask for more ‘running times,’ then follow their lead!” he says.

teach your kids to love running

How do I run with my child?

Runner Carrie Miller, a mom of six whose 6-year-old holds an unofficial world record in the half marathon with a time of 2:12, has advice for running with children.

She says to start by getting them excited about it. 

“Buy them some new running shoes and have them know it’s a really grown-up thing to do. They are running just like mom or dad!” she shares.

Another way to get kids excited about running is to take them to your own races or running groups. And talk about WHY you love running so much!

Also, pick a goal like running two times a week or training for a local 5k. Start slow and build, says Miller. 

“A quarter mile turns into a half mile and so on. No big jumps in mileage and keep the pace what they are dictating or wanting to do,” she advises. 

NEVER push your child. Wait until they are ready to want more. ALWAYS make it fun! 

10 Tips to Get Your Kids to Start Running 

We spoke with experts who have successfully started kids running and exercising regularly and share their pro tips to get your kids to love running.

Related: What to Wear When You Start Running

#1: Have realistic expectations.

Parents should have zero to low expectations about what their kids can and will run, suggest McCoy. “Start nice and easy, keep it fun, and see what happens,” he says. 

#2: Always make it fun.

Kids won’t do it if it isn’t fun. So, telling them to go out and run a mile or for 10 minutes isn’t going to appeal to most kids. It’ll sound like punishment. Instead, incorporate activities like jumping rope, obstacle courses, of dancing to keep it interesting. 

#3: Keep the communication open.

Regularly check-in with your child to ensure he or she is having fun. You want this to be a positive experience. If they aren’t having fun, talk about what could make it more enjoyable for them.

#4: Don’t pressure your kids.

If you make running a “have to,” your kids will not be into it. Decide on a frequency that is doable for your kids. Don’t shame them if they aren’t up for it on a certain day.

#5: Start slow.

Begin with a walk/run combo (like 1-minute walk and 1-minute jog) and let them be the guide. Or play music and run for one song and walk for the next.

teach your kids to love running

#6: Run with your child.

“If parents can participate in the running and model positive, fun running habits on a regular basis, this will help keep the child motivated,” advises McCoy.

You can have your child run your cool-down or warm-up with you. If you run with a stroller, have them get out and run the last half-mile or so with you.   

#7: Be a cheerleader.

Tell your kids how proud of you they are and how amazing they are doing. This reassurance will give them the mental strength to keep doing it.

Be specific in what they are doing well, for example, that they kept running even though they were tired, advises Dr. Allie Riley of Girls on the Run

#8: Talk about your “why”. 

You love running, so openly talk to your kids about why you love running.

Make it about the mental and physical benefits or the amazing running community, or how good it makes you feel, or how satisfying it is to reach goals.

Steer really clear of body image or weight loss discussions.

Instead, frame running as a way to be healthy and treat our one-and-only bodies well.

#9: Set goals.

Just like you set goals for yourself, talk with your child about what goals they may have. These can be time, frequency, or distance goals.

You can also sign up for a local race.

When you set a goal, visually track it so your child can see their progress, notes Miller. 

#10: Celebrate!

After your kids accomplish a new goal or have a great run, let them do something they want to do as a reward, says Miller. “Give them a certain dollar amount to spend at a store or buy a treat like ice cream.”

Just like you remind yourself of your “why” when the going gets tough in a running race or workout, do the same when running or exercising with your child. 

Is the reason you want to start your kids running is to improve their physical health, confidence, or goal-setting skills? 

Being their biggest cheerleader instead of a nag is the best way to achieve this with a lasting result!

If you want help reaching your running goals, check out my getting started running guide!

love running kids
Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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