Our Kids Are Slow, and Getting Slower

A new study from the University of South Australia found that kids today are 90 seconds slower on average over a mile than their parents 30 years ago.


The researchers combined the results of 50 studies on running fitness for children aged 9 to 17 years during the period from 1964 to 2010. They found that between 1970 and 2000 the cardiovascular endurance of US kids dropped by 6 per cent each decade. The researchers attribute about 60 per cent of this drop off in fitness to obesity.

This is scary stuff.

So how can we get kids more active? Well, I’ll use myself as an example.

I grew up in the 80s in a sport-loving family. I had two older brothers, a neighbourhood of active kids, and a huge empty section/make-shift BMX track over the back fence. It was a boy’s dream. Sure, I had my technological distractions of a scratchy two-channel TV and an Atari, but they’re nothing compared to today’s technological rabbit holes that are Sky TV and the Internet.

I led an active childhood, but despite all this, at age 11, I became the fat kid in the class.

A change of schools led me to give up soccer and also to not play the obligatory lunchtime bullrush anymore. I also gave up my great love of skateboarding-roller blades were the in-thing in the early 90s. I put on weight and gradually lost my confidence in sport, meaning I played less, meaning my confidence lessened, meaning I played less, and so on.

I stayed like this until I was 14 when my family and I moved to the UK. Our new home was down the road from a huge forest so I began exploring it running. Chasing red squirrels and foxes in the summer and slipping and sliding on the snow in winter. Starting off at 10 minutes at a time, I eventually run all over our neighbouring English countryside. Six months later I had a six-pack and was suddenly back in the mix at lunchtime sports, oozing with confidence.

It was adventure that got me out the door. And it was a growing self-confidence that kept me going back.

I was 14 at the time, so I had a certain level of independence to go running on my own, but how can we give our younger kids this same sense of adventure through running? Here are some ideas (depending on their age, you may need to accompany them):

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Run with a rugby ball or netball so you can practice passes and then take turns kicking and sprinting after the ball. Great for taking the mind off the fact you’re running and also to develop skills.

Get Muddy

Find the muddiest run possible (low tide in Auckland’s harbour is perfect) and the winner of the run is the muddiest finisher.

Go Bush

Head to the bush and find a walk that is supposed to take about 30mins (which might be around 1.5km) and see how much faster your kids can run it-make sure they pace themselves and that they take care on stairs and near cliffs.

The Backyard Triathlon

This is great for 5 to 8 year olds. Set up a slip ‘n’ slide in the middle of the backyard (or nearby park) and mark out a fun, twisting course around it. The swim leg will involve five slip ‘n’ slides with a run back to the top each time, the bike will be 10 laps of the perimeter course, and then finish with 10 laps running. Set up drink stations on the course and even a grandstand for spectators (ideal for their favourite soft toys).

Summer Athletics

Clubs run junior athletics training and competitions weekly all over Auckland (click here for details) but you can also set up your own mini-Olympics at home or at your local track. Do a Quadathlon (measuring distances and times over four events): a 100m sprint, long jump, gumboot throw, and a 1500m run (three and three quarter laps).

Run Your Age

This is a big goal and really needs a couple of months build up (running three times a week at least). Typically, up to age 13 it’s safe to aim to run your age in kilometres. Run it slowly with company and regular drink stops. From 14 up, most teens should be okay to slowly work towards a half marathon distance with a minimum of three months training. If your child has any health concerns, consult your doctor first and always increase distance gradually.

Happy running.

This article is an entry by Hayden Shearman on his training blog at Stuff.co.nz (published 26 November 2013). 

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