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About one in five Australians try running at some stage in their life. Running is an appealing exercise because it doesn’t cost a lot to take part and you can run at any time that suits you. One family in Newcastle are promoting the physical and mental health benefits of the sport.

Fr Mark Cooper, his wife Jo and their daughters Imogen and Jessica are member of the Wooters Runners social running club in Newcastle and also avid participants in the Park Run movement.

“I never wanted to join a running group and then we came to Newcastle from Goulburn,” Mark said.

“I ran across one of the local groups here – the Wooters – and they were doing interval training – fast and slow.

“I thought I’d just sneak in with them and I wouldn’t tell anyone, but very quickly they were a friendly group and I became one of the biggest advocates for them and bought the t-shirt because it wasn’t a group about how fast you were – you could be fast or super slow – they made sure that nobody was left behind.”

Jo said it was not just the physical health benefits, but also mental health that can be improved by running and joining a group.

“If you’re feeling stressed or anything like that, it’s nice to be able to throw on a pair of shoes and go,” she said.

“You don’t need to think ‘I can only go to this place, and practice only at this time’.

“Running is very much a ‘whenever you can’. And, yes, you have group sessions at this time or park run at that time but, like today, I didn’t have a lot of time. I came home on a bus, got off at an earlier stop and did my five-kilometre run home. It does mean you’re out there and it does clear your head.”

An inactive lifestyle is associated with higher mortality, coronary artery disease, hypertension and stroke. It is also a primary cause of most chronic diseases, as the body rapidly adapts to insufficient physical activity which results in substantially reduced quality of life.

Regular running or jogging offers many health benefits such as helping to build strong bones, as it is a weight-bearing exercise, strengthening muscles, improving cardiovascular fitness and burning plenty of kilojoules to help maintain a healthy weight.

Regular physical activity such as running can also significantly improve mental health, self-confidence, healthy ageing, and quality of life.

Mark said sometimes people who have mental health issues lock themselves away.

“One of our running groups has a guy who’s a real introvert and he’s just like ‘I do this to force myself to get out and then have a cup of coffee afterwards and a chat and it increases my social group’.

“There are also studies done that say if you have strong legs and a strong social group, it adds seven years to your life expectancy.

“It’s good for your overall health – for diabetes, heart disease, it’s good for not getting injured – when you run, you become a more balanced person, so you’re less likely to trip and fall and hurt yourself.

“When you’re at work and doing physical things, you’ll find you’re in a better place to actually do those physical things and you won’t be so exhausted at the end of the day.”

Parkrun is a free, community event where you can walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate. There are currently 481 parkrun events around the country taking place every weekend, with more locations being added all of the time. Parkrun is 5k and takes place every Saturday morning. Junior Parkrun is 2k, dedicated to four to 14 year olds and their families, every Sunday morning. www.parkrun.com.au

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