Parkrun: 20 years of community, collaboration, and connections

Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi is the RCGP Physical Activity and Lifestyle Lead and a Team GB AG Triathlete. He discusses the transformative journey of parkrun for communities across the UK and his lifestyle as the initiative celebrates 20 years in action.  

A group of parkrun runners wearing bright clothing smile for a group photo outside 10 Downing Street.
20 years of parkrun Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi and parkrun organisers attend an event at 10 Downing Street.

I was first introduced to parkrun at a practice meeting as the senior partner and the practice manager were both parkrunners. They had just signed the practice up to the RCGP parkrun practice initiative, making it one of the first in the UK to join the initiative.

At the time, I was very sedentary and really struggling with my weight. The parkrun events team who attended our practice meeting explained the benefits for the community and motivation, and I was encouraged by my practice manager as I was trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. So, I went to my first event, and it was so transformative. Don’t get me wrong; I found it exceptionally hard at first as I hadn’t been active for so long. 

I kept going back for the friendships I was forming and found over time I was getting fitter and fitter. Fast forward 6 years and I now compete as an age group triathlete for Team GB! I’ve gone from couch to Team GB, which wasn’t the plan to start off with - I just wanted to get a bit fitter! 

Since then, I have always had a place in my heart for parkrun because of the way it shaped my life. It got me more engaged, not just with my health but also in my work. I was quite burnt out and stressed at the time. It now helps me to support my patients and their lifestyles by encouraging them to get active and moving at parkrun. I then joined the lifestyle and physical activity team at the College to embed the parkrun initiative within the College and promote it amongst staff and practices. We now have over 1,800 practices taking part, which is awesome. 

Last November, I was approached by parkrun to work with them one day a week to help embed into health and social care and support. Our focus now is getting parkrun to patients and communities who have the greatest barriers to participation. 

So, it was a privilege to be invited to number 10 this April to celebrate 20 years of parkrun and discuss the collaborative practice initiative with the RCGP. Our team emphasised to the Digital Culture and Sport Minister and Prime Minister how important it is to have preventative medicine in primary care, like parkrun. There was interest there to see how they could support further, so we look forward to any future developments. As a result, I have been invited to regular all party parliamentary meetings over the future months when I plan to advocate for preventative personalised care. 

A group of parkrun representatives stand in the gardens of 10 Downing Street.
Celebrating 20 years of parkrun Discussing the importance of preventative medicine in primary care.

Why parkrun is thriving at 20

20 years is a long time! 400,000 people run every week, up from just 13 when it started. 

It has lasted for so long, and continues to thrive, because it has the key ingredients which I think are essential for a happy and healthy life. 

  1. Being outside in nature.
  2. Being around other people, connecting and being a part of your community. 
  3. It involves movement. Movement in any way you want, you can walk, run, jog, whatever takes your fancy.
  4. It’s always there. 9am every week on a Saturday, 10am on a Sunday for the junior parkrun for children and parents. Having that reliability makes a big difference. If I go to work or visit another part of the country, I know that there will be another parkrun there, so I can keep up my routine and meet new people there. 
  5. Finally, the volunteers who run over 2,000 events every single week. They do it because they are incredible people, but volunteering is also exceptionally good for our health. Studies show that people who volunteer and support others actually live longer. 

So, we need to keep on supporting our patients to go to parkrun to either improve their fitness like I needed to do or to help those who are feeling isolated to connect with other people.

Visit the RCGP parkrun practices hub to register your practice and access resources. 

More information

Health and wellbeing volunteering: The power of parkrun

About the writers

A head and shoulders image of Dr Hussain Al Zubaidi smiling and looking to the side.

Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi

RCGP lifestyle and physical activity lead

Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi is a lifestyle TV doctor and longevity coach. He is a team GB AG long distance triathlete. Movement, community, and nutrition are three cornerstones of his personal and professional life. He is parkrun’s health partnerships lead, Royal College of GPs lifestyle and physical activity lead, Leamington NHS personalised care lead, and a SWIM England clinical advisor. He runs an NHS-based lifestyle clinic and fitness club and delivers talks and lectures to professional and public audiences, including over 80 appearances on Channel 4, BBC & ITV.