Skip to main content
Log in

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

International Journal of Behavioral Medicine Aims and scope Submit manuscript



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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions


  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. World Health Organization. Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva: WHO; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  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.

  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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Müller-Riemenschneider F, Reinhold T, Willich SN. Cost-effectiveness of interventions promoting physical activity. Br J Sports Med. 2009;43:70–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. parkrun. Accessed 9 March 2014.

  10. Stevinson C, Hickson M. Exploring the public health potential of a mass community participation event. J Pub Health. 2014;36:268–74.

  11. Swain DP, Franklin BA. Comparison of cardioprotective benefits of vigorous versus moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Am J Cardiol. 2006;97:141–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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. 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.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Bellows-Riecken KH, Rhodes RE. A birth of inactivity? A review of physical activity and parenthood. Prev Med. 2008;46:99–110.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  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. 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. Bandura A. Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company; 1997.

    Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Han B, Cohen D, McKenzie TL. Quantifying the contribution of neighbourhood parks to physical activity. Prev Med. 2013;57:483–7.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Mitchell R, Popham F. Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study. Lancet. 2008;372:1655–70.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Homans GC. Social behaviour as exchange. Am J Sociol. 1958;63:597–606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Aked J, Marks N, Cordon C, Thompson S. Five Ways to Wellbeing. London: The New Economics Foundation; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Silverman D. Interpreting qualitative data. London: Sage Publications; 2006.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Clare Stevinson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: