With the UK in the midst of both mental health and obesity crises, the importance of regular exercise has never been so apparent. Evidence has long since mounted up that proves an active lifestyle is somewhat critical to both our mental and physical well-being – and in a bold and admirable move, health authorities have given the green light to GPs to prescribe outdoor physical activity rather than medication.

Prescribing Parkrun

The Royal College of General Practitioners and Parkrun UK are to team up to launch the pioneering initiative, that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of patients, healthcare staff, and carers alike – lessening the need for lifelong medication.

GP practices will be encouraged to develop closer links with their local parkrun to become certified ‘parkrun practices’, with healthcare practitioners signposting patients to parkrun, particularly those who are the least active and have long-term health conditions.

Parkrun is free, and it is a phenomenon

Parkrun is a worldwide phenomenon. There are currently 535 parkruns across the UK with more events starting every week, and it costs nothing to get involved in the 5k events that take place every Saturday morning year-round in parks and other public areas of open space.

It is a hugely accessible and enjoyable means of getting regular exercise. Each event is coordinated entirely by local volunteers and they are accessible for people of all ages and abilities. There are also over two hundred 2k junior parkruns for 4-14-year-olds and their families on Sunday mornings.

And you are not obliged to run at parkrun and junior parkrun – thousands of people walk the events or join in as volunteers or spectators. Whether it is to be part of a supportive, welcoming community, gain fitness, make friends, learn new skills, try something new or simply be active in the fresh air, you can take whatever you want from parkrun – but its benefits are clear.

Dr Simon Tobin, a GP from Southport said:

It’s a win-win situation for my patients and the NHS. Almost every day I invite my patients to come to parkrun and I’ve had successes with people with anxiety, depression, diabetes and heart disease as well as those who want to improve their blood pressure or get fitter. My patients are healthier, happier and on fewer medications, and the NHS saves a fortune on unnecessary drugs and dealing with their side effects. Dr Simon tobin

Dr Ollie Hart’s medical centre helped set up Graves parkrun in Sheffield in 2012, and he believes this sort of link up is a legitimate game-changer:

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. Dr Ollie Hart

It is pleasing to see a progressive and pioneering scheme like this, acting on the mounting evidence that has piled up before us. If you’re looking for a way to get active, parkrun is a great place to start. Alternatively, we promote all manner of schemes and initiatives across the country – check out our blog and see if you can find something that suits. Even if it’s just a small amount of activity, it all counts.

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