A team of academics reviewed existing research highlighting that parkrun participants show improvements in, among other things, fitness, total physical activity, and mood.
Here, one of the researchers, Dr Anne Grunseit from the Prevention Research Collaboration at the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, talks us through the findings.
parkrun is unique among interventions for increasing physical activity – few have enjoyed the international popularity that parkrun has, or have lasted so long. By contrast, scientific research on parkrun is limited. We have just published a (links to an article in English) review of the existing research and found 15 studies (from 2004 to December 2019) which have looked specifically at parkrun and parkrunners, including around the health and wellbeing impact of participation in these events. There were 12 studies from the UK and three from Australia.
The research highlights that parkrun participants show improvements in, among other things, fitness, total physical activity, and mood (stress, anxiety and depression). Most encouraging is that the positive effects are largest for those who are less active when they registered with parkrun, and that there is a dose response: that is, the more frequently someone participates in parkrun events, the bigger the positive impact.
The emphasis on participation rather than competition and its social nature are thought to drive parkrun’s appeal to traditionally underrepresented groups in sport and physical activity, such as women or those who are less active.
According to the research we reviewed, parkrun’s appeal seems to come from the sense of achievement, physical movement, being in pleasant surroundings and the opportunity for social interaction. The volunteering aspect of parkrun gives people the opportunity to participate even if they do not run or walk the 5k. parkrun also gives people who do not normally think of themselves as runners, a new and unifying identity – that of being a parkrunner – which connects them to a community based around being active.
Our study concludes that the evidence of the positive effect of parkrun participation is promising, but that there is still room for increasing scientific understanding about parkrun, its implementation and its impacts. Researchers could, for example, undertake studies in a wider range of parkrun territories, build insight about those who register for parkrun but don’t actually participate or look more closely at how parkrun can be made even more inclusive, for example for those with health conditions and disabilities or people from deprived communities.
There is such potential to learn so much more from this unique phenomenon, and, as researchers, we look forward to contributing to the development of this understanding.
Dr Anne Grunseit
Prevention Research Collaboration, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Camperdown, Australia
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