The power of parkrun: exercise is still the best medicine

Private GP Medicals

From its humble beginnings in London’s Bushy Park in 2004 with just 13 friends partaking in a 5km timed run, to a global event that sees more than 350,000 runners around the globe turn up every Saturday, parkrun has become a phenomenon.

So, why has it become such an essential fix for so many people of all running abilities and why does the Royal College of Practitioners believe patients should be ‘prescribed’ parkrun to improve health and wellbeing and reduce the need for lifelong medication?

In 2018, the RCGP and parkrun launched a joint initiative to promote parkrun to patients. Since then, research has accumulated into the positive benefits for those suffering from various chronic conditions, from diabetes to depression.

Social prescribing with private GP

“Social prescribing and primary prevention are the most important roles of a GP.

“We are constantly talking to our patients about the importance of diet and exercise for their health and wellbeing and trying to find ways to motivate them,” explains Dr Justine Setchell.

“I recently attended a diabetes prevention talk and one of the statistics quoted was that a five-to-six-minute brisk walk per day increased life expectancy by four years,” agrees Dr Fiona Payne.

This is borne out by new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The ambitious UK study analysed health data for more than 30 million people and found that walking for at least 11 minutes per day could lower the risk of premature death by almost 25%.

3 benefits of parkrun

  1. It gives you a – scientifically-proven – boost

A 2018 study conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University found that 89% of parkrunners believed taking part made them feel happier, boosted their mental health and improved their body image.

  1. It could add years to your life

A study published last year in the British Journal of General Practice found that more than 9% of all participants and 45% of walkers reported at least one long-term health condition. These ranged from arthritis, obesity, hypertension, chronic pain, anxiety or depression, and Type 2 diabetes. Whatever their finishing time, respondents perceived that their physical health improved.

  1. You don’t have to run – or walk – to reap the benefits

A survey of over 60,000 parkrunners, conducted independently by Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC), found that the benefits of parkrun extended to those who volunteer as well as those who take part. Eighty-four per cent of volunteers said that volunteering made them feel happier.

In part, this is believed to be due to the connection to community that volunteers experience, another benefit of parkrun. And this was the inspiration for parkrun. Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt was an injured runner who missed seeing his friends and set up parkrun to stay in touch.

“Parkrun is just part of my routine; when we go on holiday, I’ll find my nearest parkrun and it’s something we do as a family,” Dr Setchell confirms. “I had a serious skiing injury earlier this year, but as soon as I was off crutches, I went back to parkrun to volunteer. It was essential for my mental health. Partly, because it was important to feel a sense of community, but it also gave me reassurance that I would return to running. There are people in their 80s still running every week.”

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