RCGP urges GP practices to link up with local 'parkrun' events

GP surgeries will be encouraged to partner with local running events under an initiative launched by the RCGP and parkrun UK, which could see patients 'prescribed' outdoor activity to encourage healthy lifestyles.

GPs linking up with running events (Photo: iStock.com/caronwatson)
GPs linking up with running events (Photo: iStock.com/caronwatson)

The initiative aims to reduce the need for lifelong medication by improving the health and wellbeing of patients, carers and healthcare staff through physical exercise.

Certified ‘parkrun practices’ will be affiliated with their local parkrun event, and staff will be able to signpost patients and carers - particularly those who are inactive or have long-term health conditions - to the free weekly 5K events.

Research by parkrun UK in 2017 showed that hundreds of healthcare practitioners were already suggesting its running events to patients as a way of encouraging an active lifestyle.

Healthy lifestyle

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Small, often simple, lifestyle changes can have a really positive impact on our health and wellbeing, so anything that encourages patients to live better and move more is a good thing. Parkrun is a diverse, fun and free way of getting our patients up and moving about, and empowering them to make basic lifestyle changes in the best interests of their long-term health and wellbeing.’

Dr Andrew Boyd, RCGP clinical champion for physical activity and lifestyle, added: ‘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.’

The RCGP has published guidance for practices, and says becoming a parkrun practice is 'straightforward'.

Events set up by parkrun UK take place at over 500 locations across the UK every Saturday morning and participants are invited to run or walk their local 5K course. They are set up by volunteers and are suitable for people of all ages and abilities

Being a parkrun practice

One person who has experienced first-hand the benefits of programmes like parkrun is Dr Michael Banna, a GP partner in West Sussex.

‘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,’ he said.

‘I am always happy to recommend parkrun to patients, and indeed anyone looking to become more active in a supportive and enjoyable environment.’

Dr Ollie Hart, whose medical centre helped set up Graves parkrun in Sheffield in 2012, said: '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.'

Earlier this month, the RCGP backed a campaign warning patients that intensity of exercise - not just counting steps or distance covered - is key to improving health.

Click here to find out how to become a parkrun practice

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