As a nation, the UK is suffering from a health and wellness crisis. A majority of adults – 66 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women – are either overweight or obese. While loneliness and social isolation has reached epidemic levels, with an estimated 9 million people who ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel lonely. The problem is so severe that there is now a Government minister tasked with tackling it, the first such position in the world.
Exercise is not a panacea for these problems, but it can certainly put a dent in them. And that’s where another national statistic might have a part to play. Because the UK may be an increasingly lonely and unhealthy nation, but it is also one that likes to run. According to Sport England, at least 2 million adults in the UK go running at least once a week. Other research has suggested that, when occasional runners are included, the number could be as high as 10.5 million, or one in five UK adults.
That higher figure suggests there are people who want to be more active but who, for whatever reason, are not managing it on a regular basis. It could be the problem of fitting running into the busy lives that most of us now lead. Or a lack of confidence, and the feeling that progress isn’t being made.
To solve this, we need to shift the emphasis from running in its own right, to the question of how it can be made more accessible. Because running, despite first impressions, doesn’t have to be an individual pursuit. In fact, it’s often much more enjoyable, and beneficial, when done as a social activity with others.
Running together is a great way of forging connections and friendships; it means we push ourselves harder and are less likely to skip a session; and it provides safety in numbers, especially important during the winter months. It’s how people get motivated, connected with others like them, and inspired to go further.
This is why running clubs exist, as they have for decades. But these clubs come with restrictions, from timing to location and the experience of members. A running club often won’t feel that accessible for someone just starting out, even if they can make the time and place. Organisations such as Parkrun or Midnight Runners have done great work on inclusion of different abilities, but its events also happen at a fixed time that will not suit all schedules.
The challenge of making social fitness more widely accessible is what has inspired the creation of myCrew, the world’s first on-demand running app. This will allow people to create and join running communities on their doorstep, based on preferred pace, distance and location. Once you’re registered, you will get invited to newly created runs that match your preferences. It’s about letting people access the social fitness experience, in a personalised way that suits their lifestyle, fitness goals and confidence levels.
At the moment, on-demand apps are mostly geared towards helping us spend more time on the sofa: whether that’s binge watching an afternoon away on Netflix, or topping it off with a takeaway from Deliveroo. But there’s no reason why the same technology can’t help us to be more active, and more social.
If we can harness the power of technology to get people out of the house, and active together, we might just start to reverse the health and fitness problem that over the long term threatens to undermine everything from economic productivity to the sustainability of the NHS. Just as technology has contributed to the problems of poor fitness and endemic loneliness, it can also offer solutions. Unleashing the transformative power of social running in more people’s lives would be a good start.