Patients to be ‘prescribed’ parkrun as alternative to medication

Participants in a parkrun around Hyde Park in Leeds as the Royal College of General Practitioners and parkrun UK launch an initiative that could see thousands of patients “prescribed” outdoor physical activity rather than medication. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Health leaders are encouraging patients to take part in their local parkrun as part of an initiative to see patients “prescribed” outdoor physical activity instead of medication.

The free parkrun events, run by volunteers, see thousands of runners complete 5km courses in parks on Saturday mornings across the country.

GP practices will be encouraged to develop closer links with their local parkrun to become certified “parkrun practices”, with healthcare practitioners signposting patients and carers to the events, particularly those who are the least active and have long-term health conditions.

The initiative, launched in collaboration with the Royal College of General Practitioners, builds on research conducted by parkrun UK in 2017 which revealed that hundreds of healthcare practitioners are already recommending the wide-ranging benefits of active lifestyles to health and well-being to their patients.

It aims to further increase awareness among GPs, and all practice staff, of parkrun and the positive impact physical activity can have on health and well-being.

Dr Simon Tobin, a GP from Southport, Merseyside, described the concept as 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,” he said.

“My patients are healthier, happier and on fewer medications, and the NHS saves a fortune on unnecessary drugs and dealing with their side-effects.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Small, often simple, lifestyle changes can have a really positive impact on our health and well-being, so anything that encourages patients to live better and move more is a good thing.

“Parkrun is a diverse, fun and free way of getting our patients up and moving about, and empowering them to make basic lifestyle changes in the best interests of their long-term health and well-being.”