parkrun

Health journalist Rosalind Ryan finds out why parkrun could be as powerful for our health and wellbeing as medicine.

parkrun has grown from a 5k timed-trial in Bushy Park in 2004 with 13 friends to a global phenomenon with 1.7 million parkrunners. Why do so many people show up every Saturday?

Well, breakthrough new research has proven that parkrunners are happier people, while GPs are going to start prescribing activities such as parkrun for patients with anything from diabetes to depression. Here, health writer Rosalind Ryan talks to the parkrun community and investigates why it’s a no-brainer for transforming your health…

1. It will give you a (scientifically-proven) buzz

In a 2018 study by Glasgow Caledonian University, 89% of parkrunners said taking part every week made them feel happier, and boosted their mental health and body image. “Every Saturday morning there’s a real buzz – the atmosphere is great!” says Graeme Collard, 39, a delivery driver in Brighton, who has been a parkrunner for three years. He says the support, sense of community and personal achievement keep him coming back each week.

2. It could add years to your life

The Royal College of General Practitioners has just launched an initiative to prescribe parkrun to patients. The aim is to help inactive people get moving or move off lifelong medication for conditions such as diabetes. GPs who have already prescribed parkrun say that it has helped their patients with anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, in addition to reducing the cost of long-term medication to the NHS.

3. It connects you to a community

“parkrun actually began as a social intervention,” says Chrissie Wellington, former triathlete and global head of health and wellbeing for parkrun. “The founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, was a runner but was injured and missed seeing his friends. He set up parkrun as a way of staying in touch, and that social aspect continues today – you can come and feel part of something special.” And it’s all proven by new research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, which found that working out with others significantly reduces stress and improves our quality of life.

4. It can keep the whole family fit

It’s never too early to get your kids into exercise: a long-term Swedish study shows that childhood exercise has a protective effect on our health as adults, including boosting your brainpower. Hannah Doyle, 41, a parkrunner since the event launched, says, “When my eight-year-old was younger, I’d jog round junior parkruns with him, but now he can easily keep up with me! Lots of friends have run while pregnant, and then with their baby in a running buggy. parkrun is for all generations in your family – even the dogs.”

5. You don’t need to run to reap the benefits

The volunteering aspect of parkrun is vital, as the whole event is co-ordinated by volunteers – from marshalling runners to organising the finish funnel. And as research by the University of Exeter proves, volunteering can increase life satisfaction, lower levels of depression and help you live longer. “The health benefits of volunteering are huge,” says Wellington. “Thousands of people volunteer at parkrun each week and it still enables people to be active in the open air and helps build confidence and self-esteem.”

6. It connects you to nature

There is a wealth of evidence to prove that exercising outdoors in green spaces has numerous health benefits. It’s good for our mental health, we feel more social and it can boost our general feelings of vitality. “It’s great being outside in nature, and interacting more with the environment you’re in,” says Collard. And as more of us are looking for effective ways to exercise for less; parkrun guarantees it will be free, every week, for everyone, forever.

7. It enhances the effects of endorphins

parkrun may even boost the effects of endorphins, the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals. “We produce endorphins taking part in physical activity, when we see friends, when we build new relationships, and when we have a sense of belonging to a community. parkrun taps into all of that,” says Wellington.

If you need another incentive, Vitality members can earn eight points every time you run and five points every time you volunteer at parkrun. So, what are you doing this Saturday morning? We’ll see you at 9am on the start line.

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