Juliette, a ten year old girl from Sherman Oaks, had never enjoyed any kind of physical activity. When she heard about an after school program, Girls on the Run, that combined running with other activities, she decided to give it a try. Thanks to Girls on the Run, Juliette became physically active twice a week, made new friends, and learned valuable new lessons. Juliette also bonded with her volunteer coaches who became role models for how to live healthy, fulfilling lives. She enjoyed it so much, Juliette is participating in the program again – and will be more likely to incorporate exercise into her daily routine as she grows older.
This is the second year of celebrating the International Day of the Girl. Here in the U.S., there is much to celebrate about the success of young women in our society. Nationally, over 50% of college graduates are women, a huge achievement over 40 years after Title IX required schools at all levels to offer equal opportunities based on sex.
However, young women face a unique set of issues on their road to adulthood, including peer pressure, media outlets which promote unrealistic body images, and few role models of how to maintain a healthy body along with a healthy mind. The heartbreaking story of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, age 12, who committed suicide after repeated episodes of cyber-bullying, underscores the harsh terrain that girls must navigate as they mature into young women.
Crucial to this endeavor is exercise. Studies have shown that girls who play sports in high school make 7-8% higher wages later in life, and females most physically active during youth are 20% less prone to breast cancer as adults. Yet if a girl does not participate in sports by the age of 10, there is only a 10% likelihood she will be participating at age 25.
Girls on the Run of Los Angeles County (GOTRLA), a nonprofit organization, aims to disrupt the usual paradigm. Their program uses running to empower girls ages 8-13 and change the way they see themselves and their opportunities. The 12-week curriculum combines training for a 5K event with interactive lessons that encourage positive social, emotional, mental and physical development, covering topics such as healthy eating, positive body image, combatting bullying, and community service. At the culmination of each season, participants join hundreds of other Girls on the Run in a 5K event. Running, skipping and walking across the finish line teaches them they can accomplish whatever they set out to do.
Since starting the Los Angeles chapter in 2008, GOTRLA has grown to serve 34 schools and over 800 girls annually, with over 300 volunteers. They are serving 15 new schools this year.
A 2011 study confirmed that Girls on the Run participants had a significantly higher commitment to physical activity, higher physical activity levels, and healthier body images than those who had not participated in the program – and those levels remained higher even after the program ended.
Actions You Can Take for a Young Girl’s Development!
So encourage your daughters to go running. Enroll them in Girls on the Run. Sign the family up for a 5K. Join GOTRLA at the Fall season