The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has partnered with non-profit parkrun Australia to support GPs across the nation in tackling rising chronic illness.

As part of the new community partnership, the RACGP is encouraging general practices to sign up to become a ‘parkrun Practice’ and make ties with a local parkrun event. GPs can sign up and find supporting resources online here.

Practices that sign up will be listed on the parkrun Australia practice map, and GPs will be able to ‘prescribe’ parkrun events to their patients to improve their health and wellbeing.

parkrun Australia is a non-profit that supports communities to deliver free, socially-focused 5km events each Saturday morning in 450 locations across Australia. parkruns are not races – participants of all fitness levels can walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate at the events.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price welcomed the ‘parkrun Practice’ initiative, saying it was needed more than ever.

She said:

“As a GP I see firsthand how rising chronic illness, such as obesity and depression, is impacting patients.” 

“The ongoing pandemic and lockdowns have been making matters worse. Although restrictions have been a necessary step to stop the spread of COVID-19, it has led to increasing social isolation, anxiety and depression.

“This is why the RACGP’s community partnership with parkrun, and our ‘parkrun Practice’ initiative is so timely.

“The great thing about parkrun is that it’s an inclusive event and suitable for all fitness levels, you can choose to walk, jog, run, volunteer or be a spectate and enjoy the social side of it.”

It comes after a 2019 report from the RACGP and the Consumer Health Forum (CHF) on social prescribing – the referral of patients to non-medical activities, such as fitness programs, yoga or meditation to improve health and wellbeing. The report found broader adoption of social prescribing could improve health and wellbeing outcomes and recommended its incorporation into routine health care in Australia to counter rising chronic illness.

The RACGP President said social prescribing was a powerful preventative health measure.

She said:

“Preventative healthcare is core work to general practice, and social prescribing is a powerful tool GPs can use to help patients take preventative steps to improve their health and wellbeing.”

“For example, it might seem simple, but helping a patient with anxiety and weight concerns to join a social exercise group, like a parkrun event, can make a huge difference in their lives – and long term, it can help keep them out of hospital.

“While social prescribing isn’t new to Australian general practice, it needs more resourcing and recognition to improve access for patients. Many GPs know it can improve their patients’ health and wellbeing but they lack formal links to local community activities, and haven’t had access to organised support – our community partnership with parkrun will help fill this gap.”

parkrun Australia Health and Wellbeing lead Glen Turner said:

“GPs around Australia have been successfully signposting patients to parkrun events over many years for fresh air, physical activity and social connectivity. We want to scale this up and support more GPs to develop strong relationships with their local parkrun, for the benefit of patients, practitioners and practice staff.”

Dr Patrick Daly, a GP based in Adelaide, joined parkrun himself to meet new people and now prescribes it for his patients, and volunteers as a Health and Wellbeing Ambassador for parkrun Australia.

He said:

“The key for me is supporting my patients by identifying what group or activity might be right for them and having a conversation about it.” 

“If someone is free on a Saturday morning, parkrun could be right for them. Is there someone they can go with? Would they enjoy the idea of helping out as a volunteer, or going as a spectator, or simply meeting up with the parkrun group for a coffee and a chat afterwards? For example, having a new baby can be tough at times, with the risk of parents becoming socially isolated. Mums and Dads can benefit enormously from having a readymade social group to spend time with each week and share a coffee at the end of parkrun.”

Dr Michelle Redford, a GP based in Newcastle and Health and Wellbeing Ambassador for parkrun Australia, sees the positive impact parkrun events have on health and wellbeing.

She said:

“GPs see people from some of the hardest to reach sections of our community every day. We have good evidence that parkrun encourages increased levels of physical activity, especially among those who are not active, and these are the people who have the most to gain from moving more and being more socially connected.” 

“I encourage people to start with small sustainable changes, and when they build their confidence they can challenge themselves further. We often need support to make lasting changes, and parkrun is one way of facilitating that.”

All parkrun events operate under the organisation’s COVID-19 framework, and adhere to local restrictions to ensure the safety of participants, volunteers and the community.