Improving mental and physical health – parkrun

By Chrissie Wellington, Global Head of Health and Wellbeing, parkrun

We all know that exercise is one way to improve physical and mental health, but it can be very hard to get started and motivate yourself to continue exercising.

I work for a brilliant organisation called parkrun which provides a fantastic way for anyone to improve their physical and mental health in a fun and supportive environment.

As a non-profit organisation, parkrun organises free 5k runs which take place every Saturday at 9am (9:30am in Scotland and Northern Ireland). There are currently over 770 parkrun events across the UK with approximately 140,000 weekly participants supported by around 14,000 volunteers. 

You definitely don’t have to be able to run to take part. Thousands of walkers participate each week, with the volunteer Tail Walker always being the last to finish. The events truly are a family affair and have a real community feel.

Children of all ages can be found walking, running and volunteering, together with parents, grandparents and even great grandparents.

Giving people a regular opportunity to be active, in the outdoors, on a regular basis with friendship and community is important now as it was back when the first parkrun was held in 2004. There is always the option to volunteer in a range of roles; no previous experience is required. Alternatively, you can simply turn up and watch to see what parkrun is all about.

Lots of people from all walks of life coming together to exercise and support each other at a parkrun can provide a real stimulus for change for people with mental health conditions.  Events are free, open to all, including people who are inactive or have long-term health conditions or disabilities.

The physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits include improved fitness, reduced loneliness and isolation and increased confidence and self-esteem. As such, parkrun ticks many boxes for any healthcare professional interested in promoting self-management and lifestyle medicine. At parkrun, we are keen to encourage people with all conditions, including those with mental health issues, to take part in physical activity and therefore welcome the RPS campaign on mental health. 

In fact, our research shows that many health care professionals, including pharmacists, are already signposting patients and carers to parkrun, encouraging them to participate in whatever way suits the individual – as walkers, runners, volunteers or spectators.

The hope is that this becomes common-place and that parkrun is included within the suite of non-medicinal options suggested by pharmacists and can change the lives of thousands more people throughout the UK.

Check out a parkrun and experience it for yourself. Encourage your patients, especially those with mental health conditions, to take part in whatever way suits as walkers, runners, volunteers or spectators. It could change your life and theirs.

If you want find out more, please visit the parkrun website www.parkrun.org.uk  To find a parkrun event near you visit http://www.parkrun.org.uk/events/events/

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