Should Australian GPs be prescribing social running groups for their patients?

Doug Hendrie

26/06/2018 4:24:18 PM

The UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners recently announced a partnership with social running organisation, Parkrun.

Parkrun demonstrates that prescriptions can be about more than disease.
Parkrun demonstrates that prescriptions can be about more than disease.

GP clinics in the UK can now become certified ‘Parkrun practices’ with doctors able to flag patients who may benefit most from physical exercise, and practice staff and doctors also encouraged to join in.
Parkrun is a not-for-profit organisation which encourages people to do a 5 km run or walk at a pace of their choosing in a local park every weekend, with a strong social and community component.
Should Australian GPs look at following suit?
Yes, according to Sydney University Professor of Public Health Chris Maher, a long-time Parkrun participant.
‘We sometimes think prescriptions are just about disease. This is thinking more broadly about people improving their lives,’ he told newsGP.
‘At Parkrun, you see lots of people who have changed their lives completely. They might have a chronic condition or mental illness, and they use this as a social outing and exercise. There are parents who became very unfit who decided to use this to get outside and do it with their kids.’
Professor Maher believes the social aspect is key.
‘This is the best way to sell exercise,’ he said.
‘If you’re saying that people should exercise because they’ll reduce cardiac disease and cancer – you don’t see the benefits till a long way down the track. But if you can say, enjoy life, get out, meet people, have a walk with your partner and family, that’s the right message.
‘Social connections and enjoying exercise, rather than suffering through something to improve your health.’
Professor Maher’s research interests include finding ways of encouraging hard-to-reach Australians, such as older people or people with a culturally diverse background, to be physically active.
‘At a gym, older people say they feel confronted by the age of the people, the music, the clothing. That’s the good thing about Parkrun – you can reach these people,’ he said.
‘The Parkrun in Bendigo has Steve Moneghetti as a volunteer. To turn up as a kid and see an Olympic athlete at the halfway mark encouraging you, that’s incredibly motivating.’
Parkrun Australia Chief Executive Officer Tim Oberg told newsGP he wants to build connections with GPs.
‘Anything we see pioneered in the UK that’s well received, we’d like to do here,’ he said.
‘The benefits are endless – it’s exercise, social contact and engagement with the community. GPs could refer patients with chronic health conditions, mental health, or even just being new in an area to parkrun.’ 
Mr Oberg believe the social and community component of Parkrun was the main benefit on which he focused, as a way to help boost connectedness and reduce loneliness.
‘People can exercise anywhere. So we don’t sell it as a 5 km run anymore,’ he said. ‘We sell it as bringing the community together.
The volunteering side of Parkrun is absolutely key, and we have a lot who engage purely as volunteers.’
Mr Oberg said his organisation has deliberately kept a human touch wherever possible, rather than automating processes.
‘We’ve moved to keep things manual, keep that manual process where people engage with each other. So when you cross the [finishing] line, someone gives you a token. That’s a moment when you engage with a human,’ he said ‘Then you take that token to someone who will scan it – another real moment, real human.
‘There’s so much engagement there. It’s incredibly important.’

exercise loneliness physical activity social prescribing

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Naz   7/07/2018 10:17:10 PM

Great initiative.

Dr Michael Phillip Hale   16/09/2019 3:49:58 PM

terrific idea. I have recommended many of my patients to consider this but never really thought too much about how to do it well. I will up my efforts.