NCTV Episode 54
Continuing with the series of bitesize health tip videos which can be found here on my YouTube Channel, this episode, includes:-
- What is parkrun?
- Who is parkrun for?
- The physical benefits
- The mental benefits
- A tongue twister
If you’d prefer to read the content within, rather than watch the video, then feel free to read the transcript, as follows:-
Hello and welcome to NCTV Episode 54 which is all about parkrun and the health benefits you could achieve by participating in their events.
So what is parkrun? In a nutshell, it is a free, weekly, timed event where people walk, jog or run 5k on a Saturday or 2k every Sunday if you’re a junior. It’s a concept that came about back in 2004 when 13 runners got together in Bushy Park. Since then, it has become a UK based charity and expanded internationally to include over 3 million parkrunners. Put simply, it’s pretty much is the world’s biggest physical activity movement with volunteer run events now in over 20 different countries all around the world.
Who is parkrun for? Whilst it’s called parkRUN, the onus is simply on taking part no matter how fast you go or even who you are, what you wear or how old you might be. It’s all about inclusiveness and wellbeing, and it’s especially good for encouraging people who are not usually drawn to exercise, to engage in physical activity.
For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re overweight, obese, suffer from various illnesses are an ethnic minority, have a low income, are of the older generation or have certain injuries or disabilities, if anything, you would likely have more to gain from parkrun that most others.
What are the physical health benefits? Research has found that parkrunning regularly can help people to improve their fitness, endurance, general physical activity levels, and body mass index, with greater health benefits observed the more they attended. By running or walking 5km, based on the average UK completion time of just over half an hour, theoretically you could complete around a third of the UK weekly guideline for exercise with a parkrun, depending on your level of intensity. So it would seem that social running such as this, could be one of the answers to increasing people’s physical activity, whilst also helping to tackle chronic disease.
Other general physical benefits that walking or running provide – it helps to keep your joints mobile, strengthens your muscles, improves your cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and boosting circulation and it can reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.
What are the mental health benefits? The impact of parkrun on mental health extends far beyond physical activity and has the potential to support people outside of traditional mental health services.
People with mental health difficulties are among the most socially excluded people in the UK, and social exclusion is associated with poorer physical and psychological health. They are also more likely to have a poor diet, smoke, drink alcohol or be overweight.
When examining the studies looking specifically at parkrun and mental health, one found that tension, depression and anger all decreased from before to after the event, as well as improving participants’ self-esteem, stress levels and mood. Another concluded the parkrun was beneficial to mental health, by way of increased confidence and self-worth, in addition to reducing isolation, depression, anxiety, stress and giving space to think.
Many parkrunners also reported that parkrun gives them a sense of identity and belonging by being part of the ‘parkrun community’. Given that it often takes place in a pleasant outdoor environment and group setting, this creates great opportunities for informal social interaction. Combine this with its welcoming and non-threatening environment and the genuine sense of equality regardless of ability that parkrunners report, this further leads to significant improvements in overall happiness.
The benefits of exercise on mental health have long been acknowledged, however research identifies another key theme not mentioned so far and that is a sense of achievement through feelings of accomplishment, hence the improved mood and self-confidence. The flexibility of parkrun means that it can be for whatever purpose or goal an individual chooses, be it simply attending, getting faster or visiting different parkrun venues. In addition to achieving at parkrun, it can then generate a sense of self confidence to achieve in other areas of life.
What’s more, researchers say the mental health rewards associated with parkrun, can be almost immediate, as well as long-lasting. And with almost a fifth of adults in Britain suffering from anxiety or depression, parkrun can make an important difference.
As the old adage goes – ‘healthy body, healthy mind’. The brain tells the body what to do, so if we can get psychological changes, that cascades down to have physiological effects.
In recent years, 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 parkrun to their patients, how’s that for a tongue twister.
Anyway, this has been found to be a particularly helpful remedy for patients with chronic health problems.
As mentioned, volunteering is a particularly rewarding way to get involved with parkrun, if you prefer or are unable to actually participate in events. The benefits of Volunteering are that it’s associated with feeling worthwhile whilst also helping your overall mental wellbeing by improving symptoms of depression and life satisfaction.
In summary, as a keen parkrunner myself and for the reasons described, I enthusiastically encourage pretty much anyone to parkrun if you’re looking to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. While parkrun may not be the ‘silver bullet’ to cure inactivity and its associated health risks, there is evidence that it can make a real impact on the health of individuals.
As it stands, there are currently more than 650 parkrun locations across the UK in most major towns or cities and sometimes with more than one on offer in each location. For most of my clients based around the Storrington area, the Horsham, Worthing and Lancing Beach Green events are the closest to there but if you fancied a bit of tourism then there are plenty of other options a bit further afield which can be found on the parkrun website.
With COVID restrictions as they are, parkrun is currently paused for the adult events until June although some of the junior events for 4-10 year-olds at least, which take place on a Sunday, started back last weekend with more restarting as the weeks progress. So anyone wishing to do the adult events, you still have a few months to wait but that’s not to say you can’t start making preparations or getting into training for it, if you so wish. No training is necessary I hasten to add, although if you did want to start smaller then the Couch to 5k program is great place to begin.
To get involved in what I believe is one of the greatest forces for good in creating a healthier and happier planet, all you have to do is register online, print your barcode and bring it with you, then turn up and participate in the event. It’s as simple as that.
That’s today’s bitesize bit to help your health flourish, and if that has inspired you then hopefully I will see you at a parkrun event in the not too distant future. By for now.