A tool to measure the possible health gains of a running event

By 5 september 2018 No Comments

Mass participation events are becoming more popular worldwide. They have the potential to increase and sustain physical activity (PA) among participants (Lane et al., 2012; Murphy et al., 2015; Crofts et al., 2012). Research shows that every 30 minutes of physical activity (PA) contributes to 0.00022 gained Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY’s) for people who are not active enough (Fordham & Barton, 2008). However, very little evidence is available about the health benefits of sporting events (McCartney, 2010). In this study the additionally performed PA for (previously) inactive persons in their preparation for a mass participation running event was researched. From these outcomes we estimated the gained QALYs among those participants.

In a cross-sectional study, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire in the week following the event, in this case the Marikenloop, a female-only run of 5, 7.5 or 10K held in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Questions regarded the intensity (as in performed PA in training and sport) in minutes per week), and duration (number of weeks) of the preparation for the event. Participants were also asked to estimate the minutes/week they were physically active before preparation for the sports event. Other measures included sport specific and demographic information as well as the current perceived health status.

Of a total population of N=7300 females that took part in the Marikenloop, n=471 participants (mean age 42 ± 12y) completed the questionnaire. About 70% of the participants were higher educated. Of the sample, 24% was overweight (BMI >25) and a small proportion, 3%, was obese (BMI >30). Participants perceived their current health status as excellent (9%), very good (33%), good (54%) or poor (4%). During the preparation for the event, most participants (62%) trained individually, while 38% trained in a group.

More than 1.8 million minutes running because of the event

The reported average training time was about one hour spread over 2,5 training sessions/week during an average total preparation period of 9 weeks. Participants who took part in the 5K run (45% of total), on average performed 128 minutes/week of PA during the preparation, the 7.5K group (22%) 139 minutes/week and the 10K group (33%) 195 minutes/week.

As for the additionally performed PA estimated for all 7,300 participants, one third indicated that they performed extra training/sports because of the Marikenloop, at an average of 164 minutes/week. Subsequently, these 164 minutes/week were subtracted by the time spent in training/sport before the start of the preparation which was on average 84 minutes/week, meaning that the participants on average sported/trained an additional 80 minutes/week. The average preparation period was nine weeks, bringing the total number of additional PA for a third of all participants to approximately 1.8 million minutes or 30,000 hours.

Formerly inactive participants became active because of the event

However, the overall value for health of additionally performed PA is not the same in for every person. Following PA-guidelines, extra PA performed by someone who is insufficiently active has more influence on the health of a person than if he or she would already meet the guideline of 3 times a week 20 minutes of vigorous PA (WHO, 2010). About 1,000 (13%) of all participants in the Marikenloop could be characterized as ‘inactive’ before preparing for this event. This group trained on average 91 minutes/week in preparation of the Marikenloop and they would have trained only 25 minutes per week without the Marikenloop. Their average preparation period was also 9 weeks. As a result, nearly 600,000 effective additional minutes of PA were performed due to the event, by people who were formerly inactive.

Thus, in the preparation period alone, the 1.000 (previously) inactive participants of the Marikenloop established a total of approximately 600,000 minutes of additional PA, corresponding to a total gain of 4.4 QALYs. Interestingly, 74% of the formerly inactive participants had the intention to maintain their level of activity. The results imply the importance of possible interventions in line with participation sport events, which help participants to in the short term increase their level of activity but also potentially increase PA in the long run.

Developing a standard questionnaire

This study indicated the potential health benefits that the preparation period of sport event can have, by improving the PA of persons that would be insufficiently active without participating in the event. By further implementing this developed standard, it would be interesting for policymakers and event organizers to compare the recent results with similar measures of other mass sport events to provide more insights into the possible health effects. The questionnaire (4 items) can be freely obtained by contacting the researchers and we would strongly encourage others to work together on future studies.

More info: Simon van Genderen (Simon.vangenderen@han.nl)

  • Lane, A., Murphy, N., Bauman, A., & Chey, T. (2012). Active for a day: predictors of relapse among previously active mass event participants. Journal of Physical Activity Health, 9, 48.
  • Murphy, N., Lane, A., & Bauman, A. (2015). Leveraging mass participation events for sustainable health legacy. Leisure Studies, 34(6), 758-766.
  • Crofts, C., Schofield, G., & Dickson, G., (2012). Women-only mass participation sporting events: does participation facilitate changes in physical activity?, Annals of Leisure Research, 15:2, 148-159, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2012.685297
  • Fordham, RJ and Barton, GR (2008) ‘A cost-effectiveness scenario analysis of four interventions to increase child and adolescent physical activity: the case of walking buses, free swimming, dance classes and community sports.’ ‘Promoting physical activity for children.’ PDG Report, NICE. Working Paper.