Facilitating participation in health-enhancing physical activity: a qualitative study of parkrun

Int J Behav Med. 2015 Apr;22(2):170-7. doi: 10.1007/s12529-014-9431-5.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Public Health*
  • Running / physiology*
  • Social Support
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult