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News - 14th June 2021

Helping more people find parkrun

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Hi, I am Dr Michelle Redford and I am one of parkrun Australia’s Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors. This is a voluntary role that is a fabulous opportunity to work with clinicians to help more people to find parkrun. By working with parkrun, GPs and practice teams around the country can help people take more control of their health and enjoy the benefits of walking, running and volunteering in a supportive environment.


I qualified as a doctor in 1998 and have specialised in general practice since 2004, and I am now a GP in a large practice in a suburb of Newcastle in NSW. I also have a GP advisor role with the local Primary Health Care Network (PHN) and I am the Clinical Quality Improvement lead at my practice. I’m not TOO far away from reaching 250 parkruns and I’m a proud member of the parkrun Volunteer 25 Club.


I strongly believe that quality general practice with continuity of care is the key to improving people’s health. I work with a fabulous team and we cover all aspects of general practice, with a focus on management of long term conditions, mental health issues and care of children and families.


Since the start of the pandemic, I have seen more people than ever who are having difficulties with their mental health. The pandemic has affected people in so many different ways, and it’s not always obvious at first. So it is important to give people the opportunity to open up about their experiences, and work together to find ways to improve their health.


Linking up patients to physical activity is something I found my way to through my own experience, rather than something that was formally taught. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and am happy hiking in the hills or walking at the beach. General Practice is a sedentary job so it is important for my own health to make the time to move. We all need movement in our lives, something we can find enjoyment in, whatever form that takes, it doesn’t have to be running!


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“From a health perspective, physical activity has so many benefits – better mental health, better sleep, reduced risk of some cancers and reduced risk of developing conditions including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”


Sometimes taking control over our health feels overwhelming, and I believe in making health decisions together with people to achieve better outcomes. Often we know what sort of things would help our health, whether it’s changes in the way we eat or move or sleep. But it’s also difficult to translate that knowledge into a lasting lifestyle change. I encourage people to start with small sustainable changes, and when they build their confidence they can challenge themselves further. We often need support to make lasting changes, and parkrun is one way of facilitating that.


I often talk to my patients about parkrun, and I recorded this short video promoting parkrun that plays in the waiting room of my GP practice.


I came late to running. I realised I should probably learn to run when I struggled to keep up with my speedy five-year-old son at a 1.5km mini fun run! So, like many people, I did the Couch to 5km program, and my initial aim was to be able to run the whole way at parkrun. Back then I thought I had to be a runner to go to parkrun, and made sure I could run 5km before turning up, but of course now I know that is not the case. Everybody is welcome at parkrun and there are so many ways to enjoy it, running is not even the most important part. I have been fortunate to meet so many wonderful and interesting people through parkrun.


The kids were little when I started parkrunning, and it was something I was able to do for myself, for free, regularly but without making a big commitment, plus it didn’t take up a huge chunk of my weekend. Before long, the children were able to join in, and it remains something we do as a family now they are teenagers. That is a precious thing. I love it when my kids run with me, that is such a pleasure, even if I do slow them down considerably these days!


Blackbutt parkrun is our home event which we share with wallabies and a wonderful group of friendly and supportive parkrunners. No matter where you are in the world, the welcoming atmosphere is always the same. I don’t necessarily have a typical parkrun day – I enjoy volunteering, especially the First Timer Welcome because it’s a great opportunity to welcome first timers and answer their questions. It’s always interesting to meet ‘parkrun tourists’ and compare stories and courses.


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I often go for a parkchat with a friend at an easy pace, other days I am pushing to try to get a new fastest time. Either way, I really value the social side, catching up with people and having a chat. We love a bit of parkrun touristing on holiday as well. It has taken us to places we wouldn’t have discovered without parkrun, all part of the adventure.


GPs see people from some of the hardest to reach sections of our community every day. We have good evidence that parkrun encourages increased levels of physical activity, especially among those who are not active, and these are the people who have the most to gain from moving more and being more socially connected.


Dr Michelle Redford
parkrunner A314464


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