Barriers to taking up running revealed

Cardiff University researchers have revealed the biggest barriers to people taking up running as exercise (Cardiff University, 2017).

Cardiff University’s School of Healthcare Sciences investigated what motivated people to run.The barriers include people simply being too busy, safety fears over running alone, particularly among women, and concerns about running on busy roads.

Study participants were among five hundred first time runners recruited by 2016 World Half Marathon organiser Run4Wales, with the support of Cardiff University, who were given free places through the IAAF’s Athletics for a Better World social responsibility programme. The runners were invited to take part in two surveys, one before the race and one six months later. They were also offered two different injury prevention programmes through the University’s Inspire Performance Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy Team, led by Professor Nicola Phillips, in the build up to the event. The novices were asked what motivated them to become physically active, what the barriers to remaining active were, and what could be done to continue the activity.

Research study lead Dr Liba Sheeran said “We know that physical activity is good for our health but the challenge is understanding how we can instil a lasting change in the nation’s physical activity and exercise behaviours. Although mass races provide motivation and opportunity, it is not clear whether that alone is enough to ensure a long-term change in someone’s behaviour and take up regular exercise. The results showed that big events do indeed motivate people to get active and stay active, however injuries can be a problem for novice runners with seven out of 10 runners reporting injuries.”

The study found that those attending the physiotherapy-led injury prevention workshops were 50% less likely to report an injury affecting their training. The main barrier for taking up regular exercise was work-life commitments, cited by around eight out of ten people, followed by safety, which was expressed by almost one-third of women and 15% of men, and running on busy roads (12%). Men and women gave different concerns for not wanting to start running, with women worried about not being fully prepared and running in front of a crowd, while men cited not achieving their target. Researchers suggested separate strategies targeting women and men could therefore be required to get people active. Despite these barriers many positive reasons were given for running, including a sense of wellbeing, reported by 28% of respondents, getting outdoors (22%) and better health (20%). Race cost is a factor, with more than eight out of ten saying that their decision to enter the World Half Marathon was influenced by the IAAF offering free places under its social responsibility scheme. The vast majority of runners found that using running monitoring apps or keeping a training diary were helpful strategies to continue to run.

Almost every respondent reported an intention to keep running. The vast majority of respondents who completed the six month follow-up survey reported that they were continuing to exercise. The research team, which included several physiotherapists, want their findings to be used to help encourage people to take up running as an exercise.

Liba Sheeran said “We now hope to see changes from mass race organisers, sponsors and running clubs, in partnership with physiotherapists, to take greater responsibility over the health and wellbeing of the novice race entrants. In particular, we hope to see a legacy related to raising the nation’s exercise participation levels and long-term health outcomes.”

IAAF President Sebastian Coe said “In 2014 the IAAF launched its social responsibility programme ‘Athletics for a Better World’ to develop and promote athletics all around the world whilst inspiring social change. We were delighted that ‘Athletics for a Better World’ was able to assist 500 new runners from Welsh communities to participate in the 2016 IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships taking up the opportunity to kick-start their healthier lifestyles.”

Matt Newman, Welsh Athletics and Cardiff 2016 Race Organisers Run 4 Wales Chief Executive, said “Welsh Athletics have developed the Run Wales social running programme over the past two years with the aim of inspiring, encouraging and supporting every adult in Wales to run, and this study will allow us to continue to break down barriers that prevent new runners participating. In staging high profile events like the IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships, and providing free entries to beginners and those with barriers to entry, we’ve helped inspire people to catch the running bug – but we want to ensure more people continue to take part by addressing some of the concerns highlighted in this report. Providing the free Run Wales guide to group running, and a series of informal training events in the build-up to races like the Cardiff University/Cardiff Half Marathon is intended to give beginners the support network needed to take the next step to becoming regular participants. We will continue to deliver entrance fee initiatives that will broaden the reach of our events and help more people improve their fitness and wellbeing.”

Cardiff University is title sponsor of this year’s Cardiff Half Marathon and is offering free places to those pledging to raise funds for the University’s research into cancer and neuroscience and mental health.

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