TV personality Dr Zoe Williams will be among more than 1,000 GPs and practice staff expected to take part in a special parkrun event on Saturday 1 June 2019, which will celebrate the first birthday of the hugely successful parkrun practice initiative.
The special event is also being supported by Author, GP and star of BBC One’s Dr in the House, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, and Chair of the RCGP, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.
More than 800 general practices have now signed up to be a ‘parkrun practice’; linking with their local parkrun event to promote the health and wellbeing of patients and staff, and create entire communities centred on wellness.
parkruns are volunteer-led 5k events that take place each Saturday morning across the UK and are open to walkers, runners and volunteers of all ages and abilities. parkruns are socially-focussed with the emphasis on regular participation rather than performance.
To celebrate the first anniversary of the parkrun practice initiative launched by parkrun and the Royal College of General Practitioners in June last year, the two organisations have teamed up to hold a national GP parkrun pledge day. The aim is to get as many general practice staff as possible to pledge in advance, to join thousands of walkers, runners and volunteers at parkrun events across the UK on the same day.
The GP parkrun pledge day is the first event of its type, and builds on the success of last year’s celebration across hundreds of parkruns to mark the NHS’s 70th birthday. That day saw more than 146,000 people take part in parkrun, with a 14% increase in the number of participants who were inactive when they registered and 9,000 people participating for the very first time.
On 1 June, general practice staff across the country are being encouraged to pledge to participate in a parkrun event and also to bring their patients, family and friends along to walk, run, volunteer or spectate.
It is hoped that this special day will raise awareness of parkrun across the health sector and help promote sustained participation by those who are least active or have health conditions.
Inactivity is a leading cause of premature illness and death in the UK, and GPs and their teams play a key role in empowering their patients to get more active and improve their health. Thousands of GP practice staff up and down the country, including Dr Andrew Boyd, the RCGP Clinical Champion for Physical Activity and Lifestyle, are encouraging patients to take part in parkrun to help prevent, treat or improve common conditions such as anxiety, depression, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Andrew said: “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 – and for free.”
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Author, GP and star of BBC One’s Dr in the House, said: “It is becoming more and more common for a patient’s symptoms to be caused by our collective modern lifestyles. For many, it is a change in lifestyle that will address the root cause of the problem and have a lasting impact, rather than a pill that often will only suppress their symptoms.
At a time when the NHS is under huge pressure – with prescriptions alone costing around £10 billion every year – equipping healthcare professionals to prescribe a lifestyle change, where appropriate, is extremely important.
Nationwide initiatives such as parkrun that are accessible to everyone, free and socially-focussed have the potential to help people take their first steps to a healthier and happier lifestyle, and in doing so relieve some of the strain on our health service. I take part in parkrun with my family every weekend and have seen first hand the benefits it brings to individuals and whole communities.
With 800 practices now signed up to be a ‘parkrun practice’ we are starting to embed the links between primary care and voluntary sector organisations, and build strong, supportive communities that are focused on health creation. The GP parkrun pledge day is a really important way of maintaining that momentum and celebrating the progress that has been made”.
Dr Zoe Williams, RCGP Clinical Champion for Physical Activity & Lifestyle and TV Doctor said: “The parkrun practice initiative has been a huge success so far, with over 800 practices signing up in the first year. We’ve heard incredible stories from patients, their relatives and GP staff.
From getting their smile back, to improving their physical health, to feeling a part of their community again, the benefits are wide and varied, and absolutely everyone is welcome. So please help us to spread the word and get as many GP practice staff as possible to pledge to walk, run or volunteer at a parkrun on 1st June.”
Professor Helen Stokes Lampard, GP and Chair of RCGP said: “The RCGP partnership with parkrun has captured the imagination of GPs and their teams right around the UK. The walk or run approach makes exercise accessible and inclusive, and the pledge day on 1st June is a good way of encouraging more practices to sign up and take part.”
Ian Dodge, NHS England’s National Director of Strategy and Innovation said “What a start! 800 parkrun practices in just one year is a hugely impressive achievement. It’s more than 10% of the country.
If parkrun and the RCGP can keep up this momentum, the majority of GP practices in England will be involved within another four years. And thousands more people would benefit from the green spaces, the fresh air, the exercise, and above all the companionship and sense of community. parkrun is always there for you, every Saturday morning.
It first got me into running back in 2006 when it was called the Bushy Park Time Trial. The event on 1st June will be very special, and I’m really looking forward to tying my laces.”
Chrissie Wellington OBE, Head of Health and Wellbeing at parkrun, said: “We want to encourage general practice staff, and all healthcare practitioners, to signpost people to parkrun, especially those who are least active and have long term conditions, because we know that participating in parkrun plays a huge part in improving health and wellbeing.
GP parkrun pledge day is the perfect way for us to increase awareness of parkrun amongst general practice staff, and the health sector more generally, while at the same time paying tribute to their hard work.”
Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, said “parkrun is a great, fun and social way for people to get active and benefit their physical and mental health, and it’s great that healthcare professionals are leading by example.”
Dr Simon Tobin, a GP from Southport said: “It’s a win-win situation for my patients and the NHS. Almost every day I invite my patients to come to parkrun and I’ve had successes with people with anxiety, depression, diabetes and heart disease as well as those who want to improve their blood pressure or get fitter.
My patients are healthier, happier and on fewer medications, and the NHS saves a fortune on unnecessary drugs and dealing with their side effects.”
Dr Ollie Hart, whose medical centre helped set up Graves parkrun in Sheffield in 2012, says: “The close connection between our practice and our local parkrun has had the biggest health impact of anything I have done in my career.
Many of the Centre’s staff and patients are regular walkers, runners or volunteers, and I know people with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, airway disease, mental health issues and many other health conditions who have all benefited hugely from a life changing association with parkrun.”
Dr Sarah Burns says: “I’m a GP at Sloan Medical Centre and I did my first parkrun after finishing Couch to 5k. It’s a great community, a great vibe, everyone is cheering everyone on. I really recommend it.”
Patient case studies
Craig Chapman had been homeless before moving into a flat in London. His mental health nurse introduced him to Canons Park parkrun. “I have mental health issues, Type 2 diabetes, nerve damage and I was overweight. I couldn’t run for a bus. I was talking to my nurse about things that could help me and she suggested parkrun. I was introduced to the Run Director who was kind and welcoming and the parkrun community was really supportive.
I am a new man. I am moving more comfortably, my sugar levels have dropped and my GP has put me on a clinical trial to see if I can come off my mental health medication. I have joined a running club, run 10k races, earned two medals and am walking more than 10,000 steps every day. As a result, I am eating healthier and sleeping better. I am now settled in my community and am a volunteer manager at a book shop.
This simply wouldn’t have been possible without parkrun, which has helped me develop my skills and gain confidence. parkrun has changed my life.”
Sharon Boland’s physiotherapist recommended parkrun as a form of aerobic exercise when she was being treated for frozen shoulder. “Apparently the oscillation would be good for my shoulder and the endorphins would be better than painkillers, so I went along to parkrun in May 2013.
I have been running regularly ever since, including nearly 300 parkruns and many marathons. I regularly volunteer, including as a guide runner for a visually impaired person. My circle of friends has increased. My weekends revolve around Saturday mornings and I love the lure of discovering another course.”
Gwyneth Timpson’s medical team recommended physical activity as an important part of her recovery from a heart attack. “I was already doing and loving parkruns around Cumbria and South Wales before I had a heart attack in December 2018. The medical staff involved in my recovery pointed out that my lifestyle prior to my heart attack had been healthy and so I should work towards being able to return to participating.
I knew it would enable me to have a sense of progress and also a sense of returning to some kind of normality in terms of being active with other people. The fact that you do not need to run has meant that I can get back to being part of the event as soon as I was able to walk the distance”.
Scott Wishart from Tonbridge parkrun says: “In 2011 I saw my doctor suffering from quite severe pains in my chest around the heart, and was referred to Maidstone Hospital for further investigation. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were tested and deemed to be rather high for my age. I was 39 at the time and not really overweight, but physically unfit, so the NHS specialist recommended that I improve my lifestyle and do something active such as running.
The alternative, and partly influenced by family history, was to start taking statins if things hadn’t changed in six months. Less than one year later in 2012 I ran my first London Marathon and began taking part in Tonbridge parkrun in 2016. I have had my cholesterol tested regularly over the years and all is good. The advice from the NHS helped me avoid taking medication for the rest of my life.”
Gary Roche “I first saw the advert at Sloan Medical Centre, and I started to run. Since then I have got fitter and better. I have done 10ks and half marathons. It’s a great way to get up on a Saturday morning and do something and I feel good for the rest of the weekend.”
Sean Smith “Following a major heart attack and my GP’s recommendation, parkrun has been a revelation – a key part of my recovery. The support and encouragement of all who take part has been immense and I’ve achieved far more than I ever dreamt possible. Not bad for a ‘non-runner’!”
Notes to Editors:
In June 2018, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and parkrun UK launched a groundbreaking initiative to promote the social prescribing of physical activity. This builds on the NHS’s commitment, under it’s 10 Year Plan, to encourage the use of non medical interventions to address the underlying causes of ill health.
Under the ‘parkrun practice’ initiative, general practice staff are being encouraged to develop closer links with their local parkrun to become certified ‘parkrun practices’. As part of this, patients and carers are being signposted to parkrun, particularly those who are the least active and have long-term health conditions. Over 800 practices across the UK have now registered to be a parkrun practice, with more being added each week.
The initiative aims to improve the health and wellbeing of health care staff, patients and carers, reducing the need for lifelong medication. In 2017, the 1.11 billion prescriptions dispensed in communities across the UK cost £9.17bn.
Although it is called ‘parkrun practice’ it is not just GP and practice staff that are promoting parkrun to their patients. Whether people come along and walk, jog, run, volunteer or simply come for the post-event coffee and chat, practitioners from across primary and secondary care are seeing parkrun as lifestyle medicine.
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