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Survey reveals health professionals prescribing parkrun to boost Australia’s health

Survey reveals health professionals prescribing parkrun to boost Australia’s health
October 3, 2019

A survey of almost 3,000 Australian-based health professionals has revealed the extent to which patients are being signposted to parkrun events around the country, as an alternative to more ‘traditional’ medication or to complement existing treatment.

Almost 2,000 of those surveyed (69%) revealed they currently prescribe parkrun in a professional capacity, with 87% of those who don’t refer patients to parkrun stating that they would consider doing so in the future.

parkruns are free, socially-focused community events that take place in 365 parks and open spaces around Australia every Saturday throughout the year, coordinated entirely by volunteers. More than 600,000 people across the country have taken part as walkers, runners and volunteers since the first parkrun event launched in Australia in 2011.

There are opportunities for all members of the community to get involved in their local event, whether by walking or running the 5 kilometre course, taking advantage of a wide range of volunteering opportunities available, or simply through spectating and socialising. Most parkruns are centred around a cafe or community meeting place where people are encouraged to get together afterwards for a coffee and a chat.

In addition to understanding whether patients are being referred to parkrun (an example of ‘social prescribing’), the survey sought to find out why they might do so and how they are doing it. For those who aren’t signposting people to parkrun, the survey also aimed to establish what the barriers might be and how these could be overcome.

The survey revealed a wide range of motivations for prescribing parkrun in addition to improving fitness (91%). Improving mental wellbeing (78%), making friends (56%), empowering people to manage their health (53%), improving social connectivity (51%) exposure to nature (47%), increasing self confidence (43%) and reducing loneliness (37%) were among the long list of reasons that for health professionals recommending parkrun to their patients.

Over three quarters (80%) of those surveyed said that they suggested patients walk or jog at parkrun, while 25% recommend parkrun because of the volunteering opportunities and 7% having suggested patients spectate, possibly with a view to seeing if they would like to participate in future. This demonstrates an understanding of the varied health benefits that come from taking part in parkrun in a range of different ways, suited to the needs of the individual patient.

54% of those who don’t currently refer service users to parkrun revealed the main reason is that it isn’t something they had previously considered.

Commenting on the findings, parkrun Australia’s Health and Wellbeing Lead Glen Turner stated “this survey supports strong anecdotal evidence that parkrun is increasingly being used by health professionals as a non-medical referral option that can operate alongside existing treatments to improve the health and wellbeing of patients.

“What’s particularly encouraging is that there is a broad understanding of the wide range of ways people can benefit from parkrun, whether they choose to walk, run, volunteer or simply spectate and socialise. Free, regular access to a social and supportive group environment in open spaces can have far-reaching benefits for many people living with or at risk of developing long-term health conditions.

“Health professionals are a trusted source of advice, and regularly engage with people who are most at risk of developing health conditions and are far more likely to be physically inactive. Referrals to community events such as parkrun therefore have the potential to ease pressure on our health system while meeting the needs of individuals. parkrun’s ultimate aim is to collaborate with organisations locally and nationally to develop practical resources to support health professionals to identify if parkrun may be appropriate for their patients and to start that conversation.”

The online questionnaire attracted responses from a wide range of health specialisms. Registered nurses made up 18% of respondents, with 13% being physiotherapists and 10% being GPs. Psychologists, hospital doctors, occupational therapists, pharmacists, social workers and mental health nurses were among other professions represented strongly in the survey.

Social prescription in Australia is currently happening in a relatively informal way. 55% of those surveyed said they provide details of the parkrun website, with 31% writing down the name of the nearest or most convenient parkrun and 8% revealing they have helped a patient to complete the free online registration form. 12% also revealed they have accompanied a patient to a parkrun event.

The survey follows on from the success of the ‘parkrun Practice’ initiative in the UK, which saw parkrun partner with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGP) in 2018 to facilitate closer links between GP practices and their local parkrun event(s). More than 1,200 practices have already registered to become a ‘parkrun Practice’, which represents more than 10% of GP surgeries in the UK. The collaboration provides an extensive online resource kit that any health professional can access to assist with linking patients with their local parkrun.

Advising that GPs were often looking at ways to improve their patient’s health other than by using medication, RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon commented “physical activity is an important part of keeping healthy, and GPs can often prescribe different levels of it to help improve the health of our patients.

“parkrun is a great example of a way people can get out of the house, meet new people and increase their physical activity. There are a wide range of programs like this in the community, and I recommend people have a look to find the right group for them.”

Related Articles

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25th February 2019 - Sport Australia launches second phase of ‘Move It AUS’ campaign

4th February 2019 - parkrun Australia among 27 successful recipients of Better Ageing Program grants

19th December 2018 - ESSA encourages GPs to refer more patients to exercise physiologists

13th December 2018 - Belgravia Leisure partners to introduce activity and wellness initiative in aquatic and recreation centres

7th May 2018 - Groundbreaking report calls for exercise to be prescribed to cancer patients

24th October 2017 - NSW Government appoints first Open Space and Parks Design Coordinator to oversee green projects

16th July 2016 - Green Prescriptions helping young people get more active

25th June 2016 - New Sydney running carnival combines events to raise funds for Parkinson’s NSW

3rd February 2016 - Massive growth in bushwalking as ‘green exercise’ and holiday activity

18th November 2015 - Run Down Under launches virtual running craze for 2016

11th May 2015 - Exercise is a proven ‘medicine’ for cancer

18th February 2015 - New Zealand moves forward with green prescriptions

16th February 2015 - New style running race to hit the streets of Melbourne

19th May 2013 - Brisk walking just as good for the heart as running

20th December 2012 - Australians keep jogging and running

20th May 2011 - Doctors to prescribe exercise as medicine

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