International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 170–177 | Cite as

Facilitating Participation in Health-Enhancing Physical Activity: A Qualitative Study of parkrun

  • Clare StevinsonEmail author
  • Gareth Wiltshire
  • Mary Hickson



Public health guidelines emphasise the value of vigorous intensity physical activity, but participation levels are low.


This study was aimed at identifying factors contributing to initial and sustained engagement in parkrun in the UK, to inform the design of community-based interventions promoting health-enhancing physical activity.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted by telephone with 48 adult participants of parkrun, a national network of weekly, free, volunteer-led, timed 5 km runs in public spaces. The framework approach was used for thematic analysis of transcripts.


Two overarching themes emerged: freedom and reciprocity. Freedom referred to the accessibility and inclusivity of events, both of which contributed to initial attendance and sustained involvement. Reciprocity related to the dual opportunity for personal gain and for helping others. Anticipation of fitness and health benefits were important for initial motivation. However, additional aspects motivating continued involvement included achievement of time or attendance goals, social cohesion, and contributing to the community.


Specific features of the parkrun experience encouraged participation including the accessible, inclusive ethos, achievement opportunities, and inherent social support, along with the outdoor natural settings, and integrated volunteer system. The inclusion of these elements in community-based interventions may increase success in initiating and maintaining health-enhancing physical activity.


Physical activity Exercise Community Well-being Qualitative research 



We thank Danielle Mellows and Eleanor Wilkinson for conducting interviews, parkrun for covering the costs of transcription, and all participants for sharing their experiences.

Ethical Standards

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2,000. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Clare Stevinson and Gareth Wiltshire declare no conflicts of interest. Mary Hickson is married to an employee of parkrun. Costs of transcription were covered by parkrun. No other funding was available for this study. There was no involvement from parkrun personnel in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, manuscript writing, or choice of journal.


  1. 1.
    O’Donovan G, Blazevich AJ, Boreham C, Cooper AR, Crank H, Ekelund U, et al. The ABC of physical activity for health: a consensus statement from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. J Sport Sci. 2010;28:573–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    World Health Organization. Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva: WHO; 2010.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers. London: Department of Health; 2011.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Müller-Riemenschneider F, Reinhold T, Nocon M, Willich SN. Long term effectiveness of interventions promoting physical activity: a systematic review. Prev Med. 2008;47:354–68.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Müller-Riemenschneider F, Reinhold T, Willich SN. Cost-effectiveness of interventions promoting physical activity. Br J Sports Med. 2009;43:70–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Wu S, Cohen D, Shi Y, Pearson M, Sturm R. Economic analysis of physical activity interventions. Am J Prev Med. 2011;40:149–58.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Pringle A, Cooke C, Gilson N, Marsh K, McKenna J. Cost-effectiveness of interventions to improve moderate physical activity: a study in nine UK sites. Health Educ J. 2010;69:211–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bauman A, Murphy N, Lane A. The role of community programmes and mass events in promoting physical activity to patients. Br J Sports Med. 2009;43:44–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    parkrun. Accessed 9 March 2014.
  10. 10.
    Stevinson C, Hickson M. Exploring the public health potential of a mass community participation event. J Pub Health. 2014;36:268–74.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Swain DP, Franklin BA. Comparison of cardioprotective benefits of vigorous versus moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Am J Cardiol. 2006;97:141–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ritchie J, Spencer L, O’Conner W. Carrying out qualitative analysis. In: Ritchie J, Lewis J, editors. Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage Publications; 2007.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Zunft HJ, Friebe D, Seppelt B, Widhalm K, de Winter AM R, de Almeida MD V, et al. Perceived benefits and barriers to physical activity in a nationally representative sample in the European Union. Public Health Nutr. 1999;2:153–60.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Bellows-Riecken KH, Rhodes RE. A birth of inactivity? A review of physical activity and parenthood. Prev Med. 2008;46:99–110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Allender S, Cowburn G, Foster C. Understanding participation in sport and physical activity among children and adults: a review of qualitative studies. Health Educ Res. 2006;21:826–35.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Greaves CJ, Sheppard KE, Abraham C, Hardeman W, Roden M, Evans PH, et al. Systematic review of reviews of intervention components associated with increased effectiveness in dietary and physical activity interventions. BMC Public Health. 2011;11:119.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Biddle S, Wang CKJ, Kavussanu M, Spray C. Correlates of achievement goal orientations in physical activity: a systematic review of research. Eur J Sport Sci. 2003;3(5):1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Kendzierski D, Furr RM, Schiavoni J. Physical activity self-definitions: correlates and perceived criteria. J Sport Exer Psychol. 1998;20:176–93.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Kendzierski D, Morganstein MS. Test, revision, and cross-validation of the physical activity self-definition model. J Sport Exer Psychol. 2009;31:484–504.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Bandura A. Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company; 1997.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Bowling A. Do older and younger people differ in their reported well-being? A national survey of adults in Britain. Fam Pract. 2011;28:145–55.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Bauman AE, Reis RS, Sallis JF, Wells JC, Loos RJ, Martin BW. Lancet physical activity series working group. correlates of physical activity: why are some people physically active and others not? Lancet. 2012;380:258–71.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Han B, Cohen D, McKenzie TL. Quantifying the contribution of neighbourhood parks to physical activity. Prev Med. 2013;57:483–7.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Broyles ST, Mowen AJ, Theall KP, Gustat J, Rung AL. Integrating social capital into a park-use and active-living framework. Am J Prev Med. 2011;40:522–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Thompson-Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol. 2011;45:1761–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Barton J, Pretty J. What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environ Sci Technol. 2010;44:3947–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ryan RM, Weinstein N, Bernstein J, Brown KW, Mistretta L, Gagne M. Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. J Environ Psychol. 2010;30:159–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Mitchell R, Popham F. Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study. Lancet. 2008;372:1655–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Segar ML, Segar ML, Eccles JS, Richardson CR. Rebranding exercise: closing the gap between values and behaviour. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011;8:94.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Jenkinson CE, Dickens AP, Jones K, Thompson-Coon J, Taylor RS, Rogers M, et al. Is volunteering a public health intervention?A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:773.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Homans GC. Social behaviour as exchange. Am J Sociol. 1958;63:597–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Teixeira PJ, Carraça EV, Markland D, Silva MN, Ryan RM. Exercise, physical activity, and self-determination theory: a systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012;9:78.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Aked J, Marks N, Cordon C, Thompson S. Five Ways to Wellbeing. London: The New Economics Foundation; 2010.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Silverman D. Interpreting qualitative data. London: Sage Publications; 2006.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clare Stevinson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gareth Wiltshire
    • 1
  • Mary Hickson
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Sport, Exercise and Health SciencesLoughborough UniversityLeicestershireUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Imperial College NHS Healthcare TrustDietetic Department, 13th Floor Lab Block, Charing Cross HospitalLondonUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations