Kids On the Run: How Young is Too Young to Run?

young girl reaching finish line

If your child is interested in running, you may be wondering if it is a safe activity for them at a young age. Are they too young? How much running is too much? Learn more about kids and distance running.

Childhood obesity is an issue that has plagued the United States in recent years with the child obesity rate more than triple than what it was in the 1970s. As a parent, you may be interested in exploring exercise options for your child. It might be hard to believe, but distance running may have harmful effects on kids’ health.

Because adolescent bodies have different physiology than adults, running affects their bodies differently. Despite the fact that distance running is known to be a great form of exercise, it may pose health issues on children that wouldn’t be an issue until later in life. So how young is too young to run?

"A child’s exercise habits should be unique to their age," says pediatric orthopedic surgeon Susan Griffith, DO. According to guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, children ages 3 to 5 should be physically active throughout the day to enhance their growth. Children age 6 and older need at least an hour a day of physical activity, and at least 3 days should include vigorous activity. Many everyday playground activities cover the requirements, but if your child is interested in distance running, there are a few points to consider.

Children are still growing, making their muscles less flexible than adults. They also tend to pound the pavement harder while running, making stress fractures more likely. And because kids’ bodies have a different physiology than adults’, they have a higher risk of injury if exercising the same as an adult would.

What Age Is Too Young To Start Running?

In the age of screen addiction, many children view exercise as a chore. As long as fun and safety are being emphasized, distance running can be a great way for children to get exercise. There are plenty of kid-friendly races with appropriate distances that are perfect for kids that love to run. In addition to school running clubs, local organizations like iRun4Life, Bucks 5K Series, Scoogie Events and Girls on the Run offer races and events specifically for children.

While the long-term effects of distance running on children have not officially been studied, the resounding medical advice is simply if your child is excited and interested, running any distance at any age is acceptable. It is important to make sure that practicing doesn’t lead to excess fatigue or injury, and that the child’s weight remains healthy throughout his or her training. Consult your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician if they experience signs of stress or pain during training. "Wearing appropriate clothing and shoes, eating properly and getting enough rest is the best way to maximize the benefits of this lifelong sport," adds Dr. Griffith.

About Pediatric Services

Doylestown Health is an independent, not-for-profit, clinically integrated network of care committed to providing family-centered children’s services for the youngest members of our community. Our Della Penna Pediatrics along with our VIA Maternity Center offer maternity care, labor and delivery, neonatology, and perinatology services. We also have broad capabilities in pediatric diagnostic testing, and deliver comprehensive pediatric care throughout our outpatient practices, our Emergency Department at Doylestown Hospital, and Urgent Care on Swamp Road.  

About Clark Outpatient Rehabilitation Center

Located in the Ambulatory Center on the campus of Doylestown Hospital, Doylestown Health's spacious new Clark Outpatient Rehabilitation Center provides a convenient one-stop option for multidisciplinary outpatient therapy. Seamlessly connecting consultation, diagnosis, intervention and treatment services with physical therapy, occupational, hand and speech therapy, the Clark Outpatient Rehabilitation Center is staffed by licensed therapists only.

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