The absence of parkrun is detrimentally impacting people and communities across Ireland. The continued closure of our events means that parkrunners are not only missing out on opportunities to be active, but also the chance to socialise and interact with others in an outdoor environment. The resulting isolation and inactivity has long term implications for people’s health and wellbeing.
To help us understand the impact of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions, we invited 12,500 parkrunners across Ireland to complete a survey.
The findings have shed light on the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic, and the restrictions imposed to control it, on the parkrun community. Over half of respondents (54%) said that their mental health had been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and an even greater proportion (61%) saying their happiness had been negatively impacted.
A majority (55%) also reported their overall life satisfaction had been negatively affected, with over a third claiming that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their physical health.
“I miss the social side and people interaction when physically active. I am less motivated on my own”
The findings also highlight the changes in physical activity levels, with 40% of respondents now less active than they were in a typical week pre-lockdown, and 17% saying they are now “a lot less physically active”.
Significantly, it is those who classified themselves as inactive at the point they registered with parkrun whose physical health has been most affected, with nearly half of those active once or less per week before the lockdown saying their physical health is now worse off. There is an undeniable overall decline in activity for those who declared themselves inactive when they signed up with parkrun.
The survey results also highlighted the clear links between physical activity levels and people’s mental health. It is those who were less active at registration who were also more likely to report that the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health. Females were more likely to see their mental health hit (58% vs. 49% of men), along with younger parkrunners (61% of under 45s, compared to 46% of those aged 45 or over).
However, there is also a ray of light in that only a very small percentage (5%) of respondents said that they would be “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to return to parkrun as a walker or runner in the first month after events resume. Eight out of ten respondents who were likely to return cited the desire to improve physical health as the main reason, with the desire to support parkrun, improving mental health and being outdoors as other popular reasons for coming back to parkrun.
There is also a strong desire to get back to parkrun and volunteer, with two thirds (66%) of respondents saying they are likely to volunteer within the first month. Along with supporting parkrun and their community, feeling part of that community was another important motivating factor in the desire to volunteer.
The public health need for parkrun events to resume is clear, and this survey also shows that the appetite to return is also there. Every week that parkrun is closed means that people across Ireland are left bereft of opportunities to be active, in a supportive welcoming environment. The glue that binds entire communities has been wrenched away leaving a chasm in which inequalities, loneliness, ill health and disconnect thrive. And it is those that are potentially most in need of parkrun, that arguably have the most to benefit, are the one’s disproportionately affected by its absence.
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