Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors for parkrun are General Practitioners who volunteer their time to provide advice and expertise on public health and the social care sector. Their contribution is instrumental to forging strong and long-lasting relationships with clinicians, health services and government departments, and helping parkrun reach more people for whom parkrun can have significant benefits.
My name is Dr Andrew Boyd and I am excited to be parkrun’s first volunteer Health and Wellbeing Ambassador in New Zealand. I am parkrunner A2236798 and my first parkrun was Christmas Eve of 2016. My home parkrun is Wanaka.
I have always been passionate about physical activity and community development, and parkrun has given me the opportunity to combine these in an amazing way.
Like many of us, I started parkrun for fitness but began to appreciate the additional social benefits, which led me into volunteering. At that time I was living in the UK and was the Physical Activity and Lifestyle Lead at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), which is the professional membership body for family doctors in the UK. I was also the social prescribing lead for the London borough of Lambeth.
An alternative to traditional referral pathways to secondary and tertiary healthcare, social prescribing enables health professionals, including GPs, to link patients with community assets and services to help address the social determinants contributing to poor physical and mental health, including loneliness and social isolation. There is good evidence that being socially connected is good for health.
One of the challenges of effective social prescribing for a health professional is keeping up to speed with what activities are going on in your local area, how safe and accessible they are, and how they improve happiness and wellbeing. It’s not enough to say to a patient ‘there’s something out there’, you need to know the where, what, how, when and why!
parkrun is a fantastic example of a social prescription model because it ticks all these boxes. Furthermore because the parkrun ‘offer’ is the same everywhere, it is a scalable model that GPs everywhere in the UK could take advantage of for the benefit of their patients.
I started to have some conversations with the RCGP about how we could work with parkrun to let GPs know that there is a free, weekly event on their doorstep that could benefit not just our patients but also practice staff – whether they chose to walk, run, volunteer or simply spectate and socialise.
The following year (2018) the ‘parkrun Practices’ model was launched, which was a partnership between the RCGP and parkrun UK, with a dedicated website, resources and support for clinicians to signpost patients to parkrun, and guidance for GP practices and parkrun events to work together to support the concept of social prescribing.
Since then, more than 2,000 GP practices in the UK have registered as ‘parkrun practices’ and the initiative has expanded to Ireland (in partnership with the Irish College of GPs) and Australia (in partnership with the Royal Australian College of GPs).
Here in New Zealand I am the Primary Care Mental Health Lead for Southern Region and an accredited Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner, and I am passionate about working closely with parkrun, parkrunners and health professionals in this part of the world to create pathways into parkrun for as many people as possible.
Health professionals and health services spend much of their time supporting people who could benefit significantly from parkrun but who otherwise might not find out about parkrun or how to get involved. Inactivity and social isolation are leading causes of premature illness and death in New Zealand, and clinicians and their teams can play a key role in encouraging and empowering their patients to get more active in the best interests of their health. parkrun provides an accessible, unintimidating local opportunity for patients and staff to increase their activity levels, and have fun doing it, all in the great outdoors.
From a personal as well as a clinical point of view, volunteering is a great health-enabler – it’s a positive action, you feel good doing it, and you’re part of something bigger than yourself. As a bonus, volunteering or even spectating at parkrun can provide your ‘dose’ of physical activity. For example, walking out onto the course to marshal, spending an hour giving high fives and cheers and excited “well dones!” and then walking back to the finish for a chat and a coffee is a pretty active way to start your Saturday!
At a local level I will be working with parkrun Asia Pacific, parkrun teams in New Zealand, and health services, to identify ways in which parkrun could be integrated into patient care. I am excited about the potential for a nationwide partnership that would support and resource clinicians to signpost patients to their nearest parkrun, given the success of the programs in the UK, Ireland and Australia.
If you share my passion for parkrun and social prescribing, please feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com – I’d love to hear from you!
Here are some links relating to the social prescribing of parkrun around the world:
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