Parkrun found to benefit health and wellbeing

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

9/11/2020 5:35:16 PM

A new study review has further cemented that the social running program is effective, and also helps to target priority groups.

parkrun participants
A 2019 survey found almost 70% of GPs are prescribing parkrun to their patients.

Could social running be the answer to increasing people’s physical activity, tackling chronic disease and curbing loneliness?
Scientists from Australia and New Zealand certainly think it has an important role to play.
A review of 15 studies on the parkrun program – 12 conducted in the UK and three in Australia – has found the free, community-based initiative is effective at attracting and encouraging people who are not usually drawn to exercise to engage in physical activity.
The program, which started in the UK in 2004 and has since expanded to 22 countries including Australia, involves a weekly timed 5km run or walk.
The research found that participants showed ‘sustained improvements in fitness, physical activity levels, and body mass index’, with greater health benefits observed the more they attended.
Meanwhile, the data also showed benefits for general wellbeing.
Given the program is often run in a pleasant outdoor environment and group setting, parkrun was found to create opportunities for informal social interaction.

People associated parkrun with enhanced feelings of wellbeing through ‘reducing social isolation, depression, anxiety, stress and increasing confidence’.
‘A longitudinal study of ∼350 people found significant improvements in happiness, stress levels and the number of participants classified as at-risk for depression over a 12 month period,’ the authors wrote.
‘Changes were larger among those who participated in parkrun more regularly and reductions in stress were greater for novice runners.’

Additionally, organisers tend to be successful at targeting groups who are underrepresented in organised sports or physical activity such as women, ethnic minorities, people with low income, older people, and those with disabilities or illness.
The scientists also noted that parkrun is one of the few global physical activity initiatives that is suitable for individuals across the life course, and of different levels of physical and mental health.
‘Mechanisms including the timed component, informal social nature, location in green space, and the physical activity itself, collectively offer participants ways of testing and developing their fitness, making social connections, feeling valued, and disrupting hegemonic discourses around gender and physical competence,’ the authors wrote.
While the program has largely grown organically based on community demand, the research highlights the important role that partner institutions such as primary care organisations play.
That has been seen in the UK, where the Royal College of General Practitioners has partnered with parkrun, resulting in more than 1500 practices signing up to become certified parkrun practices that prescribe the program to patients.
Similarly, since being established in Australia in 2011, the program has also gained momentum among healthcare professionals. A survey in 2019 found almost 70% of those surveyed are prescribing parkrun to their patients.
To expand the reach, in March, the RACGP launched an initiative to further encourage GPs to prescribe the program as a remedy for patients with chronic health problems, following a report from the college and the Consumer Health Forum that recommended social prescribing be incorporated into routine healthcare.
Among the GPs that have seen the benefit firsthand is Dr Shriya Gupta.
‘As a GP seeing patients regularly with physical and mental health issues, I am always looking for ways to encourage them to improve their health and wellbeing,’ she previously told newsGP.
‘As a keen parkrunner myself, I have seen the many great things about parkrun – it’s free, it’s a weekly event, it’s run in hundreds of locations around the country, you can walk, run or volunteer and it’s social.
‘It is for these reasons I enthusiastically prescribe patients to parkrun, with many success stories coming from it.’
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