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'Running helps manage my blood pressure'

Article provided by NHS Choices

Andrew Watson took up running after a routine medical check-up revealed he had high blood pressure.

Overweight and with a family history of high blood pressure, Andrew, aged 49 when interviewed, knew he needed to be more active.

With a mainly desk-bound job and a busy family life, the father of three from Devon was leading a largely sedentary lifestyle. 

But the unexpected blood pressure readings were a wake-up call for Andrew, and prompted him to take up running.

Since graduating from Couch to 5K and progressing on to free, weekly 5km timed parkruns, he has lost two stone and says running has given him a "new lease of life".  

With his father already a seasoned parkrunner and his three teenage sons getting a taste for the timed 5km runs, Andrew says running has become a family affair.

Why did you start Couch to 5K?

I have a history of raised blood pressure, which is being managed by my GP surgery. I went for a routine check-up just before Easter [2014] and my reading was up again. I was advised to lose a bit of weight, which was a wake-up call. I'd started cycling and watching my portion sizes, but felt I needed to do more. 

How active were you before starting Couch to 5K?

I wasn't a complete couch potato and I'd recently started cycling to work, but my job is mainly desk-based and I found it hard to incorporate exercise into my lifestyle. I knew I needed to increase my physical activity, but I never seemed to get round to it.

How has Couch to 5K changed you?

I feel fitter now than I have done for years, and regular exercise is now part of my lifestyle. The exercise and better diet also help me manage my blood pressure. I've lost over two stone since I started Couch to 5K in April. I also feel better in myself, less stressed and in a better mood. I think it's down to the sense of achievement I get from running.

What do you like about the Couch to 5K plan?

I'm the sort of person who needs a bit of structure, so I found the podcasts and the commentary and encouragement really helpful. Knowing I had to fit three runs in each week really helped me get into a routine.

How did you hear about parkrun?

I first heard about parkrun's timed 5km runs from my dad, who is a keen runner and a proud wearer of his 50 parkruns t-shirt! A parkrun was recently set up in Parke Estate, near Bovey Tracey, about a mile or so from my home.

Did you start parkrun after completing Couch to 5K?

I didn't feel confident tackling a 5km run from scratch, as I had tried running in the past and never enjoyed it. I tended to go too fast too soon, and ended up feeling defeated. Parkrun gave me a goal to aim for while doing Couch to 5K. Once I reached week 7 of the programme and was running continuously for 20 minutes, I felt ready to give parkrun a go.

How often do you do parkrun?

I've now completed 15 parkruns since starting in June, and I try to go as much as possible. According to other runners, Parke Estate is quite a hard course compared with other parkruns, with plenty of ups and downs.

What do you like about parkrun?

Lots of things! Anyone can give it a go, no matter what level of fitness they are. It's free and convenient for me, being close to home, and as it starts at 9am you still have the rest of the day to do other things. I have a busy job and family life, too, so fitting in exercise has been a challenge in the past.

Have your running times improved?

Yes. With my first parkrun, I was hoping just to get round, but secretly hoping it would be in less than 40 minutes. I was thrilled to achieve 34:25 for my first attempt. The following week I shaved about 2.5 minutes off that, and I've kept improving my personal best.

Do you do parkrun alone?

My son has run with me a couple of times, but he usually finds friends from school on the start line to run with. I tend to run on my own, but will see quite a few familiar faces, including work mates and neighbours, along the course. My other two sons are showing an interest in parkrun, so it's turning into a family affair.

Have you made new friends doing parkrun?

Yes, parkrun is quite sociable and friendly. The course volunteers give you encouragement on the way round, and a few people head up to the cafe afterwards for a coffee and a chat. I've started volunteering on some days, which is another way of getting involved in the whole social aspect.

How does parkrun keep you motivated?

Couch to 5K got me into the habit of running three times a week, so doing a parkrun on Saturdays and a couple of midweek runs helps me maintain that routine. The fact parkrun is a timed run is also great motivation. It drives you to improve your times.

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