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

Abstract

Background

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

Purpose

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.

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Clare Stevinson.

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Stevinson, C., Wiltshire, G. & Hickson, M. Facilitating Participation in Health-Enhancing Physical Activity: A Qualitative Study of parkrun. Int.J. Behav. Med. 22, 170–177 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-014-9431-5

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Keywords

  • Physical activity
  • Exercise
  • Community
  • Well-being
  • Qualitative research