Doctors told to prescribe a Saturday morning run instead of drugs

Doctors should prescribe a Saturday morning run instead of handing out drugs to improve the health of patients, claim experts

  • Inactive people will be encouraged to take part in weekly 5km parkrun sessions
  • The Royal College of GPs says people need to exercise to improve their health
  • Doctors will be encouraged to be ‘parkrun practices’ and signpost the events

Doctors should send patients on a Saturday morning run instead of prescribing them more drugs, according to healthcare experts.

Inactive people or those with long-term health conditions may soon leave appointments with instructions to exercise more, instead of a prescription in their hand.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says lifestyle changes can have a ‘really positive impact’ on health so it is important to get people active.

The organisation says it will suggest family doctors form closer links with parkrun events, free weekly 5km runs of which there are more than 700 across the UK for people of all ages and levels of fitness.

One doctor says parkruns have already helped his patients with anxiety, depression, diabetes and heart disease, and the NHS ‘saves a fortune’ by not prescribing them drugs.

The announcement comes just a month after a scientific study claimed one in five people around the world will be obese by 2045.

Parkrun events are free and thousands of people around the UK take part in them each week 

GP practices will be encouraged to become ‘parkrun practices’ with closer links to their local runs, the RCGP said.

At these surgeries staff will signpost patients and carers to the public volunteer-led events, which take place on Saturday mornings.

Parkruns are open to all abilities and people can either run or walk the 3.1 mile course.

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The initiative will be particularly aimed at people who are not very active, and those with long-term conditions who could benefit from more exercise.

It builds on research conducted by parkrun UK in 2017 which revealed hundreds of medics are already recommending active lifestyles to their patients.

‘Anything that encourages patients to move more is a good thing’ 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs said: ‘Small, often simple, lifestyle changes can have a really positive impact on our health and well-being, so anything that encourages patients to live better and move more is a good thing.

‘Parkrun is a diverse, fun and free way of getting our patients up and moving about, and empowering them to make basic lifestyle changes in the best interests of their long-term health and well-being.’

Parkrun events are free and thousands of people take part in them each week – the organisation aims to have an event set up in every community that wants one.

Members of the public can start their own event if there is not one in their area. 

The idea is to get people from all areas of the community involved in regular exercise at their own pace. 

‘Inactivity is a leading cause of death’ 


Parkrun is a network of free, public exercise sessions which take place each Saturday across the UK and the world.

A team of local volunteers sets up a 5km (3.1mi) running course in their local area – usually in a park or green space – and members of the public can join for free and choose whether to run or walk the course.

There are more than 700 weekly events around the UK, and people who live in communities without one can set them up themselves with the support of the wider parkrun network.

Everyone from children to Olympians is encouraged to take part, and the runs are timed but not competitive. 

To get involved people just need to register before they turn up.

Find out how to take part on the official website. 

Andrew Boyd, the RCGP’s clinical champion for physical activity and lifestyle, said: ‘Inactivity is a leading cause of premature illness and death in the UK.

‘GPs and their teams play a key role in encouraging and empowering their patients to get more active in the interests of their health.

‘Parkrun provides an accessible and non-intimidating opportunity for patients and staff to increase their activity levels, and have fun doing it, all in the great outdoors – and free.’

It is hoped that people taking part in parkruns might avoid the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle; a growing problem in which people do not do enough exercise, or spend too much time sitting down.

This can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, as well as leading to obesity, which raises the risk of other serious conditions like cancer.

Research by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk last month claimed 22 per cent of the world’s population will be obese by 2045 if current trends continue; almost double the 14 per cent in 2017.

‘The NHS saves a fortune on unnecessary drugs’ 

Dr Simon Tobin, a GP from Southport, Merseyside, already tells his patients to go to parkruns and describes it as a ‘win-win situation’ for his patients and the NHS.

‘Almost every day I invite my patients to come to parkrun and I’ve had successes with people with anxiety, depression, diabetes and heart disease as well as those who want to improve their blood pressure or get fitter,’ he said.

‘My patients are healthier, happier and on fewer medications, and the NHS saves a fortune on unnecessary drugs and dealing with their side-effects.’ 

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