As parkrun events gradually reopen across Australia, a survey of more than 1600 Aussie parkrunners has revealed the extent to which social restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly affected people’s health, happiness and connections to their community.
The reopening of parkrun was welcomed by the overwhelming majority of respondents who were surveyed during October. 96% said they are either very likely or somewhat likely to return to parkrun as a walker or runner within the first month of their local parkrun reopening, with 73% likely to volunteer.
Almost three quarters (71%) of respondents admitted their connection to the local community has suffered since parkrun events were paused in March, with around two thirds (64%) revealing they prefer to exercise within a group or team than alone.
When asked about their motivation to return as a walker or runner, the social aspect of meeting up weekly came through loud and clear with 71% motivated by the feeling of being part of a community, 47% to be with their friends, and 31% to feel less isolated.
Amongst the 73% of respondents stating they would return to volunteer in the first month of parkrun, the social aspect came through even more strongly with 87% wanting to give back to their community, and 61% wanting to feel part of a community. More than three quarters (77%) say supporting parkrun is a reason to return.
parkrun Australia’s Health and Wellbeing Lead Glen Turner said “Since parkrun came to Australia in 2011 it has provided an opportunity for people in hundreds of communities to active outdoors in a social environment every Saturday morning.
“This survey demonstrates the importance of our connections with each other and our community and how deeply they have been missed over the past eight months. Human beings have an innate need to be together and the removal of these support networks has had a profound impact on our health and happiness.
“As restrictions ease in many areas, social activities such as parkrun will play a critical role in bringing people back together, enhancing community cohesion and giving people purpose.”
The majority of parkrunners in Australia (56%) feel that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This rises to 59% stating that their happiness has been hit, with 55% admitting their life satisfaction has been negatively impacted and 58% revealing their health and wellbeing would be detrimentally impacted if parkrun did not return in Australia.
The need to improve mental health was clear, with nearly two thirds of people surveyed saying they wanted to return to parkrun for this reason. The same number felt their return to parkrun would improve their happiness.
The physical health of the parkrun community has also suffered, with 44% of respondents reporting they are now active on fewer days per week than they were pre-pandemic, with just 19% feeling they are now more active.
More than half of respondents said they had more time to be active, however significantly more (67%) would have liked to have been more active, and a third said they had experienced guilt when taking the time to exercise.
There is a small but significant number (12%) who worry about leaving home to exercise and, with 10% lacking the space to be active, there is the clear possibility of large numbers being excluded from physical activity.
While a knock to physical health (77%) and fitness (81%) were unsurprisingly high on the list of the negative impacts foreseen in a world without parkrun, once again the social interaction element so fundamental to parkrun was very high on the list of what would be missed.
87% felt they would lack the sense of achievement gained from parkrun. 87% also said they would feel less part of a community, 74% would get less support and encouragement and 61% would have fewer social connections.
* A representative survey of Australian parkrunners was conducted in October 2020 with 1661 responses.
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