Benefits of Youth Running

(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)

Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and president of LEAP Foundation DC, has completed 115 marathons to date. The benefits to him are obvious, pertaining to health, but there are amazing opportunities to extend the mission of his nonprofit organization to youth outside of the Washington, D.C., radius thanks to his love of the sport. He has worked closely with several youth organizations across the country, including Students Run LA, which has reported that 2/3 of participants spend more time exercising and 92 percent continue healthy habits after participating in the running program, which preps them for participation in a marathon.

So, what is so great about youth running? Lots! Read on to learn about some of the lifelong benefits of engaging in the sport early in life.

Physical: Running, whether at a steady pace or as a sprinter, offers an incredible cardio workout that supports heart health. In addition, it burns calories like nobody’s business, which means a healthy weight can be reached and maintained. Getting a head start on this at an early age and understanding the importance of weight management can lead to a future of healthy choices and habits, and better overall health.

Mental: Exercise helps us burn off excess chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol, that can lead to anxiety and depression, while literally releasing bursts of happiness to the brain. The endorphins and serotonin that are released during a regular workout, like daily running, help relieve pain and stress, which can help with decision-making, concentration, better sleep habits, and even achieving better grades! Setting and meeting goals in any sport, but especially running, can offer a sense of accomplishment and an incredible boost to self-esteem.

Social aspects: Running with a partner or group allows us to be held accountable and it makes us feel like we’re a part of an amazing community of supporters. Running presents countless opportunities to support favorite charities. For youth, this can be a great motivation since making a monetary donation is not always possible, but raising support and awareness (as well as funds from friends and loved ones) can offer a way to be a part of something bigger.

Higher graduation rates: Dr. Lawrence has had the pleasure of working with several youth programs that are designed to teach young people about the importance of physical activity not just for the health aspect, but for what it can do for their futures. Students Run LA is on a mission to “challenge at-risk secondary students to experience the benefits of goal setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience: The training for and completion of the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.” What resonates the most for Dr. Lawrence? Students Run LA has reported some staggering statistics: 99 percent of participants will graduate high school, 95 percent will go on to college and 75 percent of those are first-generation college students.