parkrun UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners are set to launch an initiative that could see thousands of patients being ‘prescribed’ outdoor physical activity rather than medication.
The initiative, referred to as ‘social prescribing’, aims to improve the health and wellbeing of health care staff, patients and carers, reducing the need for lifelong medication. In 2017, the 1.11 billion prescriptions dispensed in communities across the UK at a cost of £9.17bn.
GP practices will be encouraged to develop closer links with their local parkrun to become certified ‘parkrun practices’, with health care practitioners signposting patients and carers to parkrun, particularly those who are the least active and have long-term health conditions.
There are currently 535 parkruns across the UK with more events starting every week, many situated close to local GP practices. For those unfamiliar with parkrun, they are free, 5k events that take place every Saturday morning year-round in public areas of open space. Each event is coordinated entirely by local volunteers and they are accessible for people of all ages and abilities. There are also 220 2k junior parkruns for 4-14 year-olds and their families on Sunday mornings.
The initiative focuses on health rather than running, and as thousands of people walk the events or join in as volunteers or spectators, this is why parkrun is the favoured option. Whether it is to be part of a supportive, welcoming community, gain fitness, make friends, learn new skills, try something new or simply be active in the fresh air, everyone has their own reason to attend a parkrun.
The initiative builds on research conducted by parkrun UK in 2017 and aims to further increase awareness amongst GPs, and all practice staff, of parkrun and the positive impact physical activity and volunteering can have on health and wellbeing.
Becoming a parkrun practice will be straightforward and parkrun UK and the RCGP will offer guidance and ideas. Interested practices should contact RCGP to register.
Head of Health and Wellbeing at parkrun Chrissie Wellington says: “Our research tells us that GPs and other practice staff are already signposting people to parkrun to great effect and we want to scale this up. This exciting and game-changing initiative with RCGP is a huge step forward in helping us to encourage GP practices across the country to forge really beneficial partnerships with their local parkruns, and for all staff and patients to realise the wide-ranging health benefits that parkrun participation can bring.”
RCGP Clinical Champion for Physical Activity & Lifestyle, Dr Andrew Boyd says: “Inactivity is a leading cause of premature illness and death in the UK. GPs and their teams play a key role in encouraging and empowering their patients to get more active in the best interests of their health. parkrun provides an accessible, non-intimidating local opportunity for patients and staff to increase their activity levels, and have fun doing it, all in the great outdoors – and for free!”
Dr Simon Tobin, a GP from Southport says: “It’s a win-win situation for my patients and the NHS. Almost every day I invite my patients to come to parkrun and I’ve had successes with people with anxiety, depression, diabetes and heart disease as well as those who want to improve their blood pressure or get fitter. My patients are healthier, happier and on fewer medications, and the NHS saves a fortune on unnecessary drugs and dealing with their side effects.”
Dr Ollie Hart, whose medical centre helped set up Graves parkrun in Sheffield in 2012, says: “The close connection between our practice and our local parkrun has had the biggest health impact of anything I have done in my career. Many of the Centre’s staff and patients are regular walkers, runners or volunteers, and I know people with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, airway disease, mental health issues and many other health conditions who have all benefited hugely from a life changing association with parkrun.”
Dr Sarah Burns says: “I’m a GP at Sloan Medical Centre and I did my first parkrun after finishing Couch to 5k. It’s a great community, a great vibe, everyone is cheering everyone on. I really recommend it.”
Patient case study
Scott Wishart from Tonbridge parkrun says: “In 2011 I saw my doctor suffering from quite severe pains in my chest around the heart, and after nothing abnormal turning up on an ECG scan I was referred to Maidstone Hospital for further investigation.
My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were tested and deemed to be rather high for my age. I was 39 at the time and not really overweight, but physically unfit, so the NHS specialist recommended that I improve my lifestyle and do something active such as running.
The alternative, and partly influenced by family history, was to start taking statins if things hadn’t changed in six months. Less than one year later in 2012 I ran my first London Marathon (again in 2017) and began taking part in Tonbridge parkrun in 2016. I have had my cholesterol tested regularly over the years and all is good.
The advice from the NHS helped me avoid taking medication for the rest of my life.”
GP Case Study
Dr Michael Banna, a GP Partner in West Sussex says: “When I first started losing weight, I used parkrun to help me get into the social element of running, and in a bid to try to enjoy something I had always hated. I was overwhelmed by how kind and supportive everyone involved was, from the Tail Walkers and other volunteers to the friends and family spectating. parkrun consistently demonstrated a community feel, and although I’ve always been a bit of a fair-weather parkrunner, I’ve moved from a place of doing it as something I felt I should do to lose weight to doing it for fun and enjoyment – something I truly never thought I would say.
parkrun is a great way to get into increasing exercise and activity levels, and one of its greatest strengths is its accessibility to people of all levels of ability and experience. I recently did a parkrun with a friend who did it with a 70 kilogram sandbag on his back as practice for a charity event he was doing the week after, and I was absolutely blown away by the amount of support and encouragement he received throughout the event.
I am always happy to recommend parkrun to patients, and indeed anyone looking to become more active in a supportive and enjoyable environment."