A few years ago I started running to deliver the newspaper to an old man called Terry. It got me into running - now, there are thousands of us who are running to help out in cities across the UK. We run in groups to do physical tasks for community organisations and separately to help isolated older people.
The idea of combining getting fit with doing good is pretty simple - but this January it seems it's tipped the balance - thousands more people are getting involved. I'm wondering why now is such a big time for people deciding to do something else instead of just going to the gym:
It's the easy way into exercise
GoodGym is a distraction from exercise. The thing that makes GoodGym different is that it's different tasks every time, so though you might not be the fastest runner in the group you can't be bad at shifting earth for a community garden. Getting involved in something new can be hard. You don't know if you're good enough - will everyone else be faster or stronger? Will everyone know each other? No-one gets left behind, GoodGym groups are welcoming and encouraging. There are special starter sessions throughout January - with less running and easier tasks. We've also worked on making the signup process easier - so when you come to the site now it's much easier to find a session that suits you.
We want to connect
People in the UK connect with each other less in person than we ever have; as we increasingly focus on getting things done there are less times when we bump into new people and talk. Similarly - we move around more so don't have long term connections with people and places where we live. GoodGym is an easy way to get to know people where you live and to feel part of your area. You end up finding about about new places to go, meeting new people and making a positive impact at the same time, it just feels good.
It's great motivation
Keeping up a regular exercise routine is hard; there's always something else more important. It's cold outside; leaving the house is hard. If you know that people are waiting for you and that you're going to do something positive you're much more likely to go. We've just had an external evaluation done that's shown that GoodGym improves motivation to exercise and actually will increase the amount of exercise you do every week. Getting out there with others keeps you going. Whether you're motivated by achieving more for your community, running a bit further or faster having a community around you who are interesting and will support you makes a big difference. We have people who run extraordinary distances and who use GoodGym as their reason for an extra run a week - then we have people who are not really into running at all but just see it as a way of getting a bit of exercise done on their way to the task.
None of us have time!
Exercise and more time helping other people are things that most people would say they'd like to do more of. Often the problem is time. We can't fit it all in. You need to stay at work late, go and see an old friend, fix your bike, put the washing on, it's easy for exercise, or volunteering to be the thing you don't do. The good thing about GoodGym is that you do both at the same time; you get out and do the task and get your exercise done at the same time.
Connecting with another generation
Every Monday I run to visit Jean - she's in her 90s and lives in a care home. We spend about 20 minutes together. She lived in Hackney most of her life and tells me stories of what life was like being evacuated to Somerset during WW2. She's interested in my life too - she's always asking about my training for the London Marathon, and she encourages me. It's a nice reflective break and a part of the week I really enjoy. There are now hundreds of older people that we run to - sometimes with regular social visits and sometimes helping with odd jobs like clearing gardens or moving furniture. It connects you with another generation and helps you reflect on the important things in life. It also makes a huge impact on their life; improving life satisfaction and reducing loneliness.
January 2017 is looking like it's going to be our biggest ever month. The good thing about us compared to a normal gym is that we're never full. It's estimated that about half a million older people are on their own every day. So until we have half a million runners there's always going to be more to do. It only takes 20 minutes out of your week and group sessions are only 90mins. So, if you're not already, join us for a different type of work out this January. You won't regret it.