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Barriers to exercise revealed

7 March 2017

World Half Marathon

The biggest barriers to people taking up running as exercise have been revealed by a Cardiff University study of novice runners.

They include people simply being too busy, safety fears over running alone - particularly among women - and concerns about running on busy roads.

As alarm bells continue to be sounded about the nation’s health, researchers and clinical experts from the University’s School of Healthcare Sciences investigated what motivated people to run.

The research team worked with first-time runners taking part in the mass race at the IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March 2016.

The study found:

  • Work-life commitments, safety while running alone and busy roads were the main barriers mentioned
  • Top motivators for running were related to health and sense of wellbeing
  • Eight out of 10 respondents used running monitoring apps
  • Big events inspired people to get active and stay active
  • Entrance fee initiatives helped to attract novice runners to mass races
  • Women had different concerns to men about starting to exercise
  • Many novice runners in the study were not attracted to running clubs

Study participants were among 500 first-time runners recruited by 2016 World Half Marathon organiser Run4Wales, with the support of the 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.

World Half Marathon 2

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 10 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 10 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.

First-time runner Ali Abdi, who took part in the research and has since helped set up a running group in Grangetown, Cardiff, as part of a Cardiff University engagement project, said: “Running is a fun, sociable and relatively cheap way to keep fit.

“The study found that novice runners were not attracted to traditional running clubs but Run Grangetown is different because we’re particularly aimed at first timers with an emphasis on enjoyment.

“I would recommend joining or setting up an informal running group like ours because it encourages you to run regularly and train with fellow novices.”

The research team, which included several physiotherapists, want their findings to be used to help encourage people to take up running as an exercise.

Dr Sheeran added: “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.”

World Half Marathon

IAAF President Sebastian Coe commented:“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 & mental health.

If you would like to be part of #TeamCardiff you can register your interest using this link.

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