In February this year, champion athletes Perri Shakes-Drayton and Victoria Wilkinson kicked off the first INEOS Go Run For Fun (2015) event in Darlington. Over 300 children from local primary schools took part, completing the 2km run at the Eastbourne Sports Complex. The run is the first of a series of over 100 events that will tour the UK throughout 2015 with the aim of encouraging children to get off the couch, give the TV a break and try a new sport such as running. Run For Fun was established by Jim Ratcliffe, who set up the new charitable foundation to encourage children to develop more active and healthier lifestyles from a young age. Along with a number of running clubs, sporting heroes such as Colin Jackson will be supporting the events and sharing their experiences to help inspire the younger generation to get active. The campaign is now the biggest children’s running initiative in the world, with over 45,000 runners already taking part, and aims to get at least 100,000 children running by 2016.
Running is a key component of many sports, and as a stand alone activity can be a far less intimidating than more complicated options involving multiple rules and more advanced movement skills. Yet the benefits of running are varied. A study by Nourry et al (2005) investigated the effects of a high-intensity running programme on young participants aged 9 to 11. They monitored the impact of short duration running training on resting and exercise lung function over an 8-week period and found that the activity enhanced resting pulmonary function and led to deeper and more effective exercise breathing capacity. The study noted that repeating such exercises could greatly improve the strength and endurance of the respiratory system. Similar research by Watts, Jones, Davis and Green (2012) noted the correlated increase in fat mass in children and the decline in reported time for exercise, and suggested that although exercise training does not consistently decrease body weight or body mass index, it is associated with positive changes in fat and lean mass. Exercise such as running improves the cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength in obese young people, and is therefore a beneficial addition to other measures used in the battle against both childhood and adult obesity.
Aerobic exercise has also been shown to act as a successful preventative measure in the treatments of anxiety and depression amongst children and young people. Psychological disorders such as these are unfortunately far too common in adolescents, and physical exercise is an inexpensive treatment with few, if any, side effects in comparison to the various therapeutic and medicinal treatments that tend to be offered. A review by Larun et al (2006) investigated the effectiveness of vigorous exercise interventions in reducing symptoms of mood disorders, and noted a positive effect from physical activity on self esteem, and reported positive effects on specific problems such as depression, hyperactivity, anxiety and conduct problems in children and adolescents. Other studies have reported a similar favourable effect on mood (Peluso & de Andrade, 2005; Dimeo et al, 2001; Dunn, 2001), and highlight the additional benefits that activities such as running can offer.
If children develop an interest in running at a young age, then they are far more likely to continue as they get older, and this will lead to a more active and healthy lifestyle in adulthood. Childhood obesity is fast becoming a leading area of concern amongst public health professionals. Recent figures from Public Health England (2015) show a third of children in England aged 10-11 years are now classed as overweight or obese. Encouraging physical activity such as running is therefore an essential part of tackling this issue.
Photo: John R Hofmann