Include running in the UK's plans to Build Back Better

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A sharp rise in depression and anxiety is occurring as lockdown eases, in what experts warn will be a post-Covid mental health crisis. While the government says it is searching for an answer to this problem, there’s a solution that could have a massive positive effect on the mental health and happiness of the nation: running.

So will you ask the government to include running in its £2bn active travel plan and to boost funding and guidance to equip more GP surgeries to prescribe running on the NHS?

I have experienced first hand the feelings of disconnect, isolation and loneliness, in my case as a result of starting to work from home. I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have discovered the simple act of running in enabling me to reconnect and improve my mental health

The situation: Four out of ten people say Covid has made their mental health worse and a report at the turn of the year by the Centre for Mental Health reported that an extra 10 million people in England alone would need extra mental health support. Meanwhile according to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability and poor health worldwide, but on average only three per cent of government health budgets is spent on mental-health.

The reality: In 2020 the cost of mental health support in England reached £120bn, and the Centre for Mental Health reports that Rishi Sunak has pledged £500m more to the NHS in 2021, which experts say is not enough.

Meanwhile, the government, alongside its Build Back Better plan for growth, has also announced a £2bn active travel strategy, called Gear Change, yet running is not mentioned. The UK’s 11m runners, a feature of all our towns and cities, remain invisible in policy and funding. I believe this is a big mistake and a missed opportunity.  

So I’m asking for two things:

  1. Government to officially include running in its £2bn Active Travel strategy, alongside walking and cycling.
  2. Government to fund a ten-fold increase in the social prescribing of running, via GPs and other link workers. The UK has among the highest use of antidepressant use in Europe, and it’s time to give more priority to complementary solutions.

Running is low cost, can be started by almost everyone at any time; requires no specialist expertise or equipment, and has been repeatedly shown to have a demonstrable effect on depression and anxiety, with one study showing that just 15 minutes a day of running can reduce the risk of major depression by up to a massive 25%.

Running, in different forms and formats, is already socially prescribed - including referrals to grassroots communities like Run Talk Run, GoodGym and, most widely, parkrun. Each has significant potential to grow, as well as other formats like RunSome, which engages people to run -- and walk -- some local journeys and commutes.

Running is also an efficient mode of urban transport - it’s cheap, it’s typically twice as fast as walking, often faster than driving in congested cities, has a low carbon footprint and aids our mental and physical health. With a quarter of UK journeys a mile or less and over two thirds of car trips in UK cities under 3 miles there is much potential. 

The government cannot afford to leave running out of its plans to Build Back Better and its plans to improve the mental health of the nation. Sign my petition to urge government to take action.