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On Global Running Day, appropriately, OSS has discovered research that suggests that more people have spent lockdown running and more youngsters across the UK are taking up running as a new sport, writes PROFESSOR RICHARD DAVISON.
Over the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposition of lockdown we were encouraged to get at least one session of exercise every day. Outdoor options for exercise were limited to basically walking, running and cycling. It would seem that lots of us are out and about keeping active but hard data on the actual changes to population activity levels is hard to come by. A recent study conducted by Sport England suggests that about 20% of us are running regularly during the lockdown with that number remaining fairly consistent across the last few weeks.
There has been a consistent trend over the last ten years for increasing numbers participating in social running, most easily demonstrated by the increasing numbers taking part in Parkrun since its inception just over 15 years ago. The data provided by Parkrun (below) has provided a good trend analysis of running in communities over the last decade and the increase in numbers taking part in Parkrun in Scotland.

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While these numbers are encouraging, at OSS we like to take a deeper look at the data to uncover trends and issues that need to be addressed and learned from to enable more to enjoy lifelong sport and recreation.

So what do these Parkrun stats tell us? It would seem like Parkrun has been successful in engaging families, with parents taking younger children along on a Saturday morning for the 5km run, and this has resulted in a very significant increase in the number of 14 and under age group running.

Again this is fantastic, introducing children to the joy of running, however, the challenge remains the same as with many teenage sports activity – keeping them involved.

The graph below also shows as the children get older the numbers drop off dramatically. Although it is still encouraging that the trend over the last decade and more has still been upward, this demonstrates the major challenge faced by many sports of keeping children engaged in sport and physical activity past the age of 14. This is particularly important for sports like running as the cost of participation is significantly lower than many other sports as OSS have reported previously in research (see Research Library) on the inequalities in sport participation.


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Nevertheless, on Global Running Day we should celebrate the benefits of running particularly in the current challenging times. As well as making us fitter aerobic exercise like running also helps to control weight more effectively and strengthens our immune function.

There is a significant body of research that shows that regular aerobic exercise as long that is not excessive enhances our immune function and makes us less likely to succumb to infection, including COVID-19. In fact, a recent publication in the Journal of Sport and Health Science goes as far to say that the combination of an ageing, obese and inactive society has made us much more vulnerable in the UK to pandemics like COVID-19 (Nieman 2020).

For many going for a run is a great way to de-stress and certainly there is lots of research demonstrating the mental health benefits of regular running. So to help you cope get out there on Global Running Day and just enjoy your run.

As there seems to have been a renewed interest in walking, running and cycling the challenge for sports bodies is how to come out of lockdown and capitalise on this enthusiasm for sport and exercise.

As part of OSS’s ongoing mission we will be continuing to commissioning and collating quality independent research, and sharing this for discussion, to help sport’s bodies and providers to develop new strategies and ways of working to grow the number of people enjoying regular sport and recreation.