Parkrun makes us fitter, but can it make us happier as well?

That regular exercise is good for you, reduces your risk of a large number of diseases, improves sleep quality and boosts energy is well known. But if these weren’t reasons enough already to start the NHS Couch to 5k programme and register for a free local run, then here is another: parkrun makes you happier.

In a new study by Glasgow Caledonian University of more than 8,000 people, 89% said that participating in parkrun has made them happier, with an overwhelmingly positive impact on their mental health. Happiness was measured using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, in which participants self-score questions from 1 (unhappy) to 6 (extremely happy). Parkrun participants scored an average of 4.4, compared to the general population, who score an average 4.

Another notable finding was that while social media can often be a source of anxiety and a negative influence on self-esteem, people using the athletes’ social network Strava – 30% of all parkruns globally are now uploaded to the site – said that they were 83% more motivated to exercise because of it.

Aside from the physical effects of regular exercise on the body, it is clear that one of the reasons parkrun has such a positive impact is its sense of community. As Ian Young, who lives with PTSD, has competed in the Invictus Games and is also a run director for parkrun in County Durham, says: “There is a huge sense of belonging and achievement and both Strava and parkrun are a great way to meet up to run, socialise and make new friends – providing me with a great support network.”

A 2017 survey showed that GPs, nurses and physiotherapists now even “prescribe” parkrun to their patients. Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who created parkrun in 2004, has said: “Belonging to such social and supportive networks, which show the joy that regular physical activity brings, can be a significant catalyst for it becoming a lifelong habit”