The biggest barriers to people taking up running as exercise have been revealed by a Cardiff University study of new runners.
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.
Participants of the study were among 500 first-time runners recruited by 2016 World Half Marathon organiser Run4Wales, with the support of the University, and Welsh Athletics' social running programme Run Wales, who were given free places through the IAAF’s Athletics for a Better World social responsibility programme.
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
Research study lead by 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 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%).
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 with Run Wales support 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.”
Sioned Jones, Run Wales Programme Manager said, “Run Wales welcomes this piece of research and will use it to continue to support adults in Wales to run. We have recently developed a ‘Guide to setting up and organising Group Running’ to support people in setting up their own social running group, of which we already have over 70 identified across Wales, meaning people don’t have to go alone. Our next piece of work is around supporting running in the workplace which will hopefully help breakdown the work commitment barrier for adults in Wales”
Matt Newman, Welsh Athletics and Cardiff 2016 Race Organisers Run 4 Wales Chief Executive, said: “Welsh Athletics has 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.
“We will continue to deliver entrance free initiatives that will broaden the reach of our events and help more people improve their fitness and wellbeing.”