WHERE ARE THE BEST CITIES IN THE UK FOR RUNNING AND OUTDOOR EXERCISE?

Running is one of the most popular sports and forms of exercise and wellbeing in the world, and in 2020, many people took to running for the first time as a means to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle throughout the pandemic while practicing social distancing. As more new runners prepare to lace up their trainers and venture outdoors for a run in 2021, Runners Need analysed several factors that impact our cities across the UK to find the very best cities for outdoor running and exercise.


A new study from Runners Need, the UK’s leading specialist running retailer, released findings from a study that reveals the UK’s best and worst cities for runners and outdoor exercise. Runners Need also created an interactive tool, which allows users to input their city and see how it ranks against others as a best or worst city for running and outdoor exercise.

Runners Need’s Best UK Cities for Running Index

To see how your city ranks, use the tool by selecting the city you live in and see how it compares for running and outdoor exercise against others. You can also compare factors between cities such as local crime rates, air pollution, the number of public parks and gardens, and more to see how each fares.

The study, conducted in November 2020, analysed data and trends that impact outdoor running and exercise, such as local crime rates, air pollution, traffic data, the number of public parks and gardens in different cities, and more.

According to Sport England, running outdoors in the UK increased by 731,000 participants in 2020, a rise of 1.5%. Since stay-at-home measures were introduced in March 2020, the NHS reported a 92% increase in downloads of the Couch to 5K app between March and the end of June 2020. As people continue to practice social distancing and as the tier system slowly relaxes into 2021, outdoor running is expected to continue. The Runners Need study findings and tool can help further identify the best locations or factors that impact outdoor running, as well as predict which cities might continue to see a rise in outdoor running and exercise. 

Key Findings for the Best and Worst UK Cities for Running and Outdoor Exercise

  • The top three best overall cities in the UK for running and outdoor exercise are Wokingham, Slough, and Reading—based on a combination of factors including crime rates and air pollution per city, traffic back-ups, and the number of public parks and gardens.
  • Glasgow City, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Liverpool are the top 3 ‘Greenest’ cities, based on the number of public parks and gardens (772, 498, and 489 respectively).
  • Stirling, Carlisle, and Scarborough are the top 3 'Cleanest’ cities, based on local and regional data estimates of carbon dioxide emissions. Glasgow, Stevenage, and Oxford are the worst three cities for air pollution, making them the least desirable for outdoor running and exercise.
  • Scarborough, Selby, and Great Yarmouth are the three safest regions for runners, based on government data on local crime rates, while London, Birmingham, and Leeds are the most dangerous for outdoor running and exercise.
  • Oxford is the most active city, measuring the amount of running events available to register for on Eventbrite (340), while Scotland’s Aberdeen City and Glasgow City are the least active cities (20 and 55).
  • London is the worst city for avoiding high traffic (averaging 9,038 miles in traffic build-up), followed by Leeds and Birmingham (with 1,893 and 1,598 respective miles). Slough is the best city for avoiding high traffic (averaging just 201.1 miles in traffic build-up), followed by Reading and Hartlepool (with 246.3 and 254.4 respective miles).

The data was collated by analysing the following factors in accordance to each city’s population: the number of public parks and gardens; the average amount of traffic build-up in miles, according to the Department for Transport; the measure of local and regional carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to air pollution; the number of registered running events on Eventbrite; and government data on local crime rates. The findings can help residents better understand their own cities and what they offer for outdoor running and exercise, as well as help park run and race organisers determine the best parts of the UK to host their next event.

As many gyms and leisure centres remained closed and people continue to practice social distancing, people will continue to opt for exercise outdoors when possible. 

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