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13 February 2019

Working with parkrun on pioneering research

By Professor Steve Haake | Twitter

Tuesday 21 January 2020 • Reading time: 2 minutes

The Advanced Wellbeing Centre (AWRC) is working with parkrun, the revolutionary global physical activity movement, to conduct pioneering research into how it improves health and wellbeing.

The research is set to have a significant impact on the understanding of how parkrun improves the lives of those who walk, run and volunteer at its events across the UK, and around the world.

parkrun is a charity which delivers free, weekly, timed 5k events every Saturday morning in areas of open space. They also organise junior parkruns, which are 2k events for 4-14 year olds and their families, on a Sunday morning.

Across the UK, there are 680 5k events and over 300 2k junior parkruns. About 170,000 people walk or run at those events every weekend, supported by around 19,000 volunteers.

In total, around 2.4 million people have taken part since the first event was held in 2004. In 2009 parkrun spread internationally. Today, there are over 1,900 events every weekend across 22 countries around the world. So far over 6.4 million people have signed up, and around 300,000 people take part every weekend. 

parkrun's mission is ‘to create a healthier, happier planet’. To support this vision, parkrun commissioned Sheffield Hallam's AWRC to implement a survey to find out more about parkrun participation and the impact on health and wellbeing.

The survey was sent out in 2018 to all registered parkrunners over the age of 16 in the UK and Ireland — resulting in 60,694 responses from the UK and 4,493 from Ireland. This makes the survey one of the largest pieces of independent research into the impact of physical activity in the world.

The survey revealed a range of positive results for those participating in the weekly event, whether running, walking or volunteering.

73% of parkrunners said their mental health had improved and 89% of respondents said that their physical health had improved by taking part. Volunteering for parkrun had incredible results — 84% of volunteers reported an improvement to their happiness.

The results suggest that parkrun has helped inactive people increase their levels of activity, inside and outside of the parkrun environment. Around 5% of respondents who participate were previously inactive, however 95% of these then became active after engaging with parkrun - taking part in a further 143 instances of exercise per year outside parkrun.

The survey has helped to shed light on the impact that interventions, like parkrun, can have on health and wellbeing and this study has generated a rich data set which is being further explored by researchers with an interest in this field.

Professor Steve Haake is a Professor of Sports Engineering and the Founding Director of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. 

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