As an NHS physiotherapist I find that many of my patients are aware they need to do more physical activity, even before I have given them any advice. What they want to know is how, despite the pain in their leg, despite the weight they’ve put on or despite them getting out of breath on the first hill they encounter. When they come to see me, running often seems impossible.
The good news is that the world around us is changing. For example, here in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme running is no longer just for sporty types. Friends and family members have started the Couch to 5k programme at Newcastle (Staffs) Athletic Club, or joined Potters Trotters or Stoke FIT, and joined Hanley parkrun.
This makes the job of healthcare professionals a lot easier. Our patients have started their ‘cycle of change’ and just need assessment, some specific exercises and signposting to various activities. Once they’ve started with the right exercises and build up, most people, particularly those with no recent history of regular exercise, grow tremendously in strength and fitness.
Personally, I am 58 and running for me could have lost its appeal by now. But recently it has been the runners and walkers at the rear end of the parkrun who have most enhanced my motivation to keep going.
During Hanley parkrun recently I spoke to people as we walked and ran, about the personal benefits they feel they are gaining from parkrun. It has always struck me how many people smile whilst they’re running. There was no hesitation about talking to me whilst jogging around the hilly three lap Hanley parkrun course.
The most common reply was stress relief. So many parkrunners told me about how running and walking clears their mind and relieves them from the pressures of work. Running and walking gets us away from stressors and gives us time for reflection. It makes us calmer and elevates our mood.
“It has always struck me how many people smile whilst they’re running”
Several parkrunners told me about how it motivates them to not only train to run, but also how to tackle other things in life. It has built confidence, some people have lost weight, and others have become more upbeat. One woman had struggled with the loss of her mother and many pains in her body. parkrun and training through a run and walk programme got her back to functioning well, and feeling happy again.
Although we tire ourselves through exercise, we feel much more energised afterwards and in general throughout the week. We feel fitter, not just for ourselves, but also to coach: many parkrunners help others to get fit. A cricketer told me how it helps his cricket coaching, and a boxer ran with his daughter to keep himself fit and guide her with her netball training.
The social aspects were mentioned a lot. parkrun is also a great opportunity to do something useful and fun as a family. Who knows how much family life is enhanced and how many friends are made through parkrun.
Two parkrunners told me about the spiritual benefits – walking and running provides time for reflection and prayer. It makes us appreciate the wonders of the human body as well as the beautiful nature we travel through.
I chatted with a nine-year-old, proud as punch at running with his mum and big brother. I ran with a 78-year-old woman who uses parkrun to keep strong, to help her to continue with her job and support her granddaughter.
It made me appreciate even more that participation, not pace, is what’s most important.
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