Lockdown has seen a huge surge in the number of aspiring runners, figures suggest.
Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded the Couch to 5K app during lockdown.
The Public Health England app is designed for beginners and encourages them to incrementally increase the amount they run each week.
More than 858,000 people downloaded the app between March and the end of June – a 92% increase from the same period in 2019 when the app was downloaded 448,000 times.
The NHS-backed app provides guided commentary from a virtual coach who helps people increase the amount they run week by week.
Leicia Thompson, who lives in Leeds and works for the NHS, started the Couch to 5K programme during lockdown.
“I hadn’t ever ran any kind of distance before so didn’t think I’d make it past the first couple of weeks, but now seven weeks on I’m running 25 mins non-stop and can’t believe the progress I’ve made,” she said.
“The increase in running time is really gradual and even for a complete beginner like myself it is really manageable.
“Being able to choose the voice on the app is also a great feature – I have Sarah Millican encouraging me along the way and that really helps to keep going.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS national director for primary care, who has also been running more during lockdown, added: “Lockdown has been a difficult time for so many of us and with millions of people working in new ways and not doing the activities they usually would, we know that it can be much harder to get motivated to get up and go.
“It is incredible to see that practical tools like Couch to 5k have become even more popular over the last three months – keep going if you’ve started and download the app if you want to increase your activity levels. It won’t be the right solution for everyone, but it’s a simple way to begin and small steps can make a massive difference to your health and your lifestyle.
“We have all coped differently during lockdown, and for me, running and taking some time out to exercise with my children has been really important for me – we’ve seen huge benefits physically, mentally and for our general wellbeing.”
Rosanna O’Connor, acting director for health improvement at Public Health England said: “Lockdown has been challenging for us all but it’s hugely positive to see so many people using this opportunity to get more active and using Public Health England’s app, part of its Couch to 5k campaign.
“Keeping active is not only good for our physical health but also crucially at this time helping us look after our mental health. And staying fit and healthy means we’re also playing our part in supporting the NHS.”