Did you run a lot as a kid? Chances are you may have competed in cross country or track and field competitions in high school or college, but do you remember what sparked your love of running to begin with?

For many parents who are runners, the idea of getting your kids into it as well may seem attractive. If you are looking for smart ways to encourage your kids to run, don’t miss this quick guide:

Benefits of Running for Teens and Young Adults

Like adults, teens experience both powerful physical and mental benefits from a strong running routine.

  • Heart health. Even if you don’t maintain your running routine into adulthood, research shows for men specifically that the high aerobic fitness you do as a young runner can actually reduce your risk of myocardial infarction later in life.

  • Brain health. While most research exploring the connection between running and brain health has focused on older adults, a team of scientists at the University of Arizona decided to look at the effects of running on college-aged young adults. Using functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), researchers scanned the brains of highly fit young runners and non-runners.

    What they found was that unlike the non-runners, the young runners had significant increases in activity in areas of the brain responsible for planning and multitasking that could reflect improved cognitive ability.

  • Weight management. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, nearly one-quarter of kids and adolescents are overweight or obese. Running is one of the most accessible aerobic activities that can help young people both lose weight and manage a healthy weight to stave off lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

  • Self-confidence. Running is a superb activity kids can approach on an individual basis, as opposed to team sports which can feel more daunting at a young age. This type of physical fitness is also known to boost mood and confidence and can even serve as a powerful stress-buster during those peak angst-filled moments that ripple throughout the teen years.

Tips for Getting Your Kids to Run More

Want to help your kids kickstart a running habit? Try these 6 ideas:

Tell them about your races. Whether it’s a 10k, a marathon, or an ultra, any race is going to be a big deal for you and your kids. Make sure you share your experience with them, from what it felt like during the race to how amazing you felt at the finish. Discuss goal-setting, training, and celebrating every win. They’re perception of how you embrace running can help fuel their own love for it too.

Start slow. When it comes to running at any age, too much too soon is typically a recipe for disaster. For kids especially, pushing them too fast or too hard into running can backfire and put a stop to a healthy running habit before it has even begun. Starting slow simply means limiting runs to once or twice a week to begin with and keeping them simple, short, and fun.

Run with them. While kids might enjoy running the dog in the park on their own or even hitting the treadmill alone, joining you for a run could be both fun as well as a great bonding experience. Sign up to run a charity race side by side, try a trail run together, make it a Saturday morning date to go running, the options are endless.

Know their limits. Did you know a child’s growth plate won’t fully close until their late teen years? For this reason alone, starting slow and taking steps to prevent injury is important. Lower extremity injuries like ankle sprains, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis can also sideline a teen’s fitness habits and scare them off from ever running again. Don’t push your child past their limits and be smart about injury prevention.

Join a group. While running can be a satisfying solitary activity, for kids, it can also be huge fun to join a recreational running group. Other kids their age who share similar interests will provide encouragement, friendship, and accountability when it comes to keeping up with their running.

Teach smart habits. Whether it’s remembering to take water every time they go for a run or simply educating your kids about healthy nutrition and sleep practices that complement running, teaching them smart habits will go a long way towards your child’s success.