3 January 2023
Would you like to feel part of a community while getting fresh air and exercise? Park Runs could be the answer with mental health benefits as well as fitness.
5km Park Runs are organised in open spaces across the UK on Saturday mornings at 09.00. In many places there are Junior Park Runs on Sundays at 09.00 for ages 4-14. Organised by volunteers, the events are designed to put physical activity at the heart of the community. Park Runs are for everyone. It’s ok to walk the course and there is provision for wheelchair users and people on mobility scooters.
Running itself is so straightforward to do. It just takes a pair of trainers and a bottle of water. The events are free. Exercising outdoors in nature helps people feel in the moment and brings them out of themselves. Vitamin D can stave off depression. Running can improve cognitive function and creativity. It can help you sleep and increase energy.
Being able to do it together breaks through social isolation. Warming up together, sharing the route, sharing times if you have registered for a barcode, helps people make connections across social boundaries. Park Runs are even recommended by GP practices.
Humans are sociable by nature so taking part in a Park Run reduces stress and helps combat anxiety and depression. It’s much easier to be motivated to go as a group than head out alone. You will be able to share tips on improvement week to week building confidence and a sense of achievement. Cardio exercise gives you endorphins and at a Park Run you will have people to share the buzz with. Many people go for coffee together afterwards.
There are enthusiastic marshals around a Park Run course who encourage participants. Spectators cheering at the end add to the sense of achievement. Being congratulated validates the accomplishment. The volunteers themselves benefit from the company, making friends and feeling part of something. It's their job to create a fun, welcoming atmosphere. Now they have a reason to get up and out on a Saturday morning. They feel connected to the community.
Runners can set different goals at the regular event. Just showing up, beating last week’s time, competing with one another. They help each other as they were helped when they first joined. It's easier to be consistent if you have buddies to train with. Many establish enduring friendships that spill over into the rest of their lives.
For some runners taking part in Park Runs has been life-changing, giving their exercise a purpose. It helps them feel calm, relaxed and happy. Some have taken part for years and see it as an essential part of their wellbeing.
The Park Run ethos is to make the planet a better place and it is a growing movement across more than 20 countries. So why not give it a go and be part of something?