Why I run in front of my babies

Originally posted here

By: Tyler Lund from Dad on the Run


Healthy kids become healthy adults

Shoes: check. Water bottle: check. Pack and play? Sometimes getting a run in with two infants requires getting a little creative. Even if the only option sometimes wasn’t bringing the boys down to the basement while I’m on the treadmill, I’d do it anyway. I make the boys watch me run because I plan on keeping them involved in my running and encourage them to run and be active in their lives. There are many well researched benefits to encouraging children to be active and by making running a part of their lives as much as reading, eating, and sleeping are, I intend to make being active an intrinsic part of their lives.

Research has shown that kids who exercise choose to exercise more regularly without being pushed. They also make more healthy and nutritious eating choices on their own. Children who are active at least an hour a day, and it doesn’t even have to be consecutive, become and stay more active and healthy throughout their lives. Habits learned early really do tend to stay habits throughout life. And the benefits are effectively cumulative, so the earlier they are instilled, the more powerful they become. It’s sort of like retirement savings, a dollar saved, or in this case a minute active, adds up to something much larger later in life when the benefits are most needed. Active kids become active adults whereas inactive ones either must work harder to break these habits or end up couch potatoes themselves.

The benefits over a healthy life are wide ranging and incredible. Because even a little activity a day can dramatically improve overall health and fitness across so many different systems of the body, being active may be the closest thing to a wonder drug we know. Cardiovascular exercise improves and strengthens the lungs and heart, and physical activities like running improve bone density. As a result, active adults, and therefore kids who practice active lives have lower rates of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, lung issues, and have even been shown to have lower rates of cancer. Runners have been shown to get colds and the flu significantly less frequently than non-runners as well. Anecdotally, I know I have gotten sick about half as often now that I run than before I started. Incredibly, setting your kids up with healthy habits early on can mean not only fewer visits to the doctor over their lives, but longer lives as well.

Obviously living an active life and making healthy nutritional decisions leads to fewer health issues, but also correlates with lower weight and fewer occurrences of weight gains throughout life. The health benefits of this are obvious as well, but there are several mental and emotional benefits too. Active children have higher self esteem and better self image, which can result in better scores in emotional well being. These, as well as running and exercise in general, lower stress, reduce anxiety and rates of depression and even improves the ability to handle stress. For the parent of young children, handling stress better sounds like a pretty nice dream. Beyond all of this, exercise even improves both the quantity and quality of sleep. And getting more sleep, as Arianna Huffington will tell you, comes with a list of benefits nearly as large as being active does. Plus, more sleep for the kids means more sleep for mom and dad.

All of this can even help kids once they go to school. Most directly, kids who exercise at least an hour a day have measured with higher performance in school and score better on aptitude tests. For whatever reason, exercise also correlates to higher rates of school attendance too, compounding the benefits. Kids who exercise regularly also score higher on social skills and the effects are magnified for those who play team sports, even those without direct team competition like track or cross country. The Salk Institute studied these effects, first in mice, then through children who are active and found direct links between exercise and the production of BDNF, a compound that boost cognitive aptitude and comprehension as well as the formation of both new brain cells and new neurons. They also found that children who exercise regularly demonstrate the ability to focus more, for longer, and get distracted less easily and are less impulsive.

So with all of these benefits, I think it’s pretty clear why I run in front of the boys. Demonstrating that exercise is a valuable part of the day is the best, and as far as studies have shown, the most effective way to get them to be active as well. No, I’m not going to be throwing them on the treadmill anytime soon, or at least until they can crawl, but showing them an active lifestyle and raising them with it as a core part of their lives will set them up for it in their lives. In fact, it isn’t even just the running that may do so. The positive effects of an active lifestyle are not only for those who do strenuous exercise, but even for those that are more of a part of everyday life.

Running is great, but hiking can actually be more effective as the combination of exercise, on some trails balance, and the allure of nature and the great outdoors has shown to be one of the most effective activities to raise healthy kids. Children whose parents take them hiking have the highest rates of exercise later in life across several activists including organized team sports. This is exactly why we take them hiking anywhere from our nation’s beautiful national parks to the little state forest near us as often as we can. Getting them involved and interested in nature early on will pay so many dividends later. Even walking the dog on a nightly basis may be a large factor in encouraging an active life, as walking even shows similar, if less drastic results. More important than the activity though is consistency. This is why we strive to take the dog and the boys out for at least a mile walk every single night. Not only does the fresh air calm them before bedtime, the consistent activity may even lead them to exercise consistently later in life too.

So if these benefits apply across many categories of activity, why do I focus on running in front of them? Well first, because I personally enjoy running. Data shows that activities which are enjoyed tend to be done far more regularly and consistently, and lead to higher rates of positive change. So when you set that New Year’s Resolution to be more active, find something that you like doing, or at least don’t hate, or you won’t be doing it by February. Additionally, running, while perhaps not imparting the same social skills improvements as team sports, actually corresponds to stronger levels of self satisfaction and self image. Due to the introspective nature of running, the long times alone with only one’s thoughts, runners get pretty comfortable with themselves. Running also isn’t often about winning, it’s most often about self improvement and beating oneself, leading to better goal setting and motivation. It’s also a great way to learn time management and prioritization as long runs often mean trade offs in schedule for the day. This of course also means less time on the couch and less time with a screen. Screen time has become one of the biggest issues for children these days, essentially being responsible for all of the inverse of the benefits that exercise brings. The best way to limit screen time is to avoid it altogether, and running leaves no other choice, Running, for a pretty repetitive activity, actually improves overall fitness, athletic and aerobic ability, and even flexibility and strength, at least more than many team sports.

A less studied reason for me to attempt to share my love for running with the boys is that I picture it as an outlet for bonding and sharing experiences for us in the future. I not only see us running together on weekends and during their early years to stay active, but later on as well. Once the boys leave the nest, I see us continuing running together as a way to keep in touch. Perhaps it is my John Hughes tinted vision of the future, but I see us meeting up for races, turkey trots, and even just fun trail runs when we are older and sharing a little slice of our lives with each other. I’m not a great phone conversationalist, so I hope that we can catch up on our lives, dreams, and problems while out on the run and for just that little sliver of time, both relive these glory days as well as plan for the future. It might even be a good way for us to travel together and see the world. There’s no better way to see new places and experience the people than running a race or just with the locals. Maybe one day I’ll even run with their children.

Healthier lives, longer lives, smarter lives, and lives shared more with me. These are the reasons I make my infants sit and watch me run. If they hate it, I’m never going to make them run too, but at least by exposing them to it early, I increase the odds they will enjoy it. There are so many reasons to lead them to active lives and healthy decisions, but perhaps most of all it is to share the love I have for the activity with them. Yes I want them to live long, healthy, fulfilling lives, but I also want them to enjoy and revel in their lives. For me, running has brought this, and I can only help them try to find similar fulfillment. So get used to the view of daddy on the treadmill in the basement lads, because we still have a lot of miles in front of us.