Why running is the ideal activity for GPs

Dr Neil Metcalfe advocates running to improve health and wellbeing.

Dr Metcalfe running the Keswick half-marathon in Cumbria
Dr Metcalfe running the Keswick half-marathon in Cumbria

GPs ought to set an example to patients, according to England CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies, who last month said GPs should maintain a healthy weight because patients may ignore doctors who do not follow their own advice.

Personally, I would advocate running as a good way of keeping fit, and achieving a healthy weight and good mental health. It is an activity GPs might want to consider.

Running at least once a week is a pastime enjoyed by more than 2m UK citizens, including me.

Undertaking the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity, which could include running, helps to improve cardiovascular performance and reduce the risk of diabetes and osteoporosis. It can help to prevent or reduce obesity, and may lower certain cancer risks.

Running is also a fantastic way to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Many people will be aware of the rush of endorphins that occurs during and just after a run, the so-called 'runner's high'. However, many non-runners do not appreciate the change in your outlook that can occur after running.

Reflect while you run

Running, in the countryside or on urban streets, gives you time to consolidate your thoughts and reflect on workor home-related matters. A determination to challenge yourself can give you the boost needed to work through problems.

Have you spent too much time at work and away from your family? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Are you enjoying your job? Running offers the chance to take stock.

Of course, running is not always pleasant. Unfavourable weather tests motivation; musculoskeletal niggles undermine form. But these experiences are also valuable, helping us to empathise with patients who are struggling with exercise.

Sometimes, patients do not need advice on exercise from a medic, but from a fellow human being who has faced their own challenges with injuries and lack of drive. Indeed, lifestyle advice in consultations can be enhanced if patients have seen their GP running outside, at the gym, at a local running event, or even in a photo on the GP's desk in their consulting room.

As a final point, GPs may enjoy running because doctors tend to be competitive. Focusing on beating your personal best time or testing your stamina with a half-marathon instead of your usual 10km race can provide you with personal targets and a sense of pride and satisfaction when you achieve them.

  • Dr Metcalfe is a GP in York. Thanks to co-author David Smith, a fourth year medical student at Hull York Medical School

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