A nonprofit program is helping adolescent boys live a healthy lifestyle while building up their psychological, emotional and social health—all through the power of running. And a recent study shows that their work towards fostering compassion and confidence in kids has been successful.
Let Me Run is a nonprofit wellness program for elementary and middle school aged boys. Founded by Ashley Armistead in 2009, the program now enrolls over 17,000 boys across 27 states. Each spring and fall, teams meet twice a week for seven weeks. Each program ends with a 5K race and celebration.
Inspired by the caring behavior of her own sons, Armistead wanted to create a group that cultivated a healthy emotional environment for adolescent boys.
“Society seemed to be setting an expectation that boys are not capable of settling down, being respectful of people and property, being caring, and having the ability to concentrate,” Armistead says. “I always seemed shocked by these beliefs, as I know that my boys far surpass me in their caring actions, integrity, and self-control. I was deeply disturbed by the low expectations that we were setting for our boys.”
The goal of Let Me Run is to promote healthy masculinity. So often young males are told things like, “Man up” or “Stop acting like a girl.” These phrases promote unrealistic and dangerous stereotypes of how boys are supposed to act. Let Me Run works to allow boys to better express their emotions and show affection. The program also promotes confidence and respect for others, which allows boys to connect and better maintain friendships.
Recently the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Institute to Promote Athlete Health and Wellness studied Let Me Run over the course of two seasons. They found that the program significantly improves boys’ attitudes and behaviors associated with healthy masculinity. The ability to express their feelings led boys to have less physical altercations.
Let Me Run also increased boys’ vigorous physical activity levels. Participating in Let Me Run reduced boys’ screen time on school days and increased their social competence. This was the first published study to examine healthy masculinity in boys, as well as a program’s ability to improve it.
Armistead wants her message of healthy masculinity to extend to any age group. It is especially important for parents of boys involved in Let Me Run to understand her goal.
“We would like our mission to reach every male, whether it be through participation, coaching, volunteering, or seeing the change in others who have been involved.”