Linking GP practices with free, local parkrun events helps to improve the health and wellbeing of patients and staff, a new study has claimed.
The research by the University of Warwick’s Medical School, as part of an ongoing assessment of the initiative by parkrun UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners, identified the process of developing such connections, the motivations for linking public health with community based asset, the benefits experienced, and some of the key challenges associated with becoming a ‘parkrun practice’.
Lead author Dr Jo Fleming said there are benefits for both staff and patients of GP practices becoming linked to local parkrun events, which are weekly 5km events for all ages in which participants can walk, run, jog, compared to other social prescribing initiatives.
“In the past, patients may have been referred to activities like 12-week gym sessions that a GP can probably check to confirm that they attended. But then what happens to patients after those 12 weeks? Some social prescribing is only short-term or funded so after that it comes to an end. Parkrun is ongoing so patients can keep going without fear of it coming to an end.
“Getting people more physically active is going to improve their health in lots of different areas – cardiovascular, mental health, even the sense of community in going to parkrun, particularly for people who might be lonely or benefit from social activities.
At the same time of course, it’s important to remember that it might not be for everyone. But because it’s a low-cost, low-level initiative, its availability is potentially a good thing.”
The research, published in the latest British Journal of General Practice, involved 380 GP practices, 13 of which also participated in interviews – including some who had not yet registered as a parkrun practice. At the time of the survey 780 practices were signed up to the initiative, but it now stands at more than 1500, about 17% of all UK practices.
While most practices engaged with the initiative successfully, the survey identified that 44% of practices had experienced some difficulties in implementing activities as part of the initiative, in particular staff engagement and concerns about the time involved. Engagement in the initiative varied among practices, from a poster in the waiting room or on TV screens, or handing over a leaflet in a consultation to volunteer takeovers in which practice staff took on all the volunteer roles in a parkrun event.
Dr Fleming added: “The key conclusion is that practices are engaging with the initiative, and that it has had a benefit for staff and patients, but there are some challenges that need to be addressed in order to have continued success in the future uptake of the initiative. The main reason for becoming part of the initiative was improving the health and wellbeing of their patients. Secondary to that, improving the health and wellbeing of their practice staff.”
The study co-author, Chrissie Wellington, global head of health and wellbeing for parkrun, added: “This project is a great example of how collaboration can take place between the charitable and community physical activity sector, in this case local parkrun events and parkrun UK, and public health, general practice and RCGP with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of as many people as possible.”
Professor Mike Holmes, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Simple lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on our physical and mental health. Most GPs and our teams wholly support initiatives such as parkrun, as a diverse, fun and free way of getting our patients active and encouraging them to think about their health and wellbeing.”