Australian Institute of Sport data shows COVID sped up grassroots exercise activities like parkrun

Once the domain of daggy dads sporting zip-off shorts, exploring the outdoors has become cool again.

More Australians than ever pulled on their hiking boots in the past year, and the popularity of community running and walking groups is surging.

New data from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) shows COVID-19 accelerated grassroots exercise activities, like parkrun, which offers free community events with no time limits and no-one finishing last.

AIS general manager of sports division Brooke de Landre said “flexibility” was being prioritized over the traditional organized sport.

“More than 10 million Australians were outside taking part in bushwalking activities and just enjoying the great outdoors in 2021 and 2022,” she said.

Experts say all signs are pointing towards Hike Girl Summer becoming the next big thing in 2023.(Supplied: Annabelle Doheny)

Among them is Rachele Preston, who joined a Townsville bushwalking group a year ago.

Ms Preston admits she was initially reluctant to take part.

“I was a bit dubious, and I wasn’t confident to start with. I wasn’t fit at all,” she said.

“Now I jump out of bed in the morning instead of not wanting to get up each day.”

Bushwalking gets a facelift

It’s a trend spurred on by online adventure influencers who are harnessing social media to give the outdoors a makeover.

Jemima Robinson curates adventure films that tour the world, including the hugely popular Banff Mountain Film Festival.

A woman in a pink jacket and hiking gear with a mountain in the background.
Jemima Robinson says the rise of adventure influencers online provides a direct link between adventurers and audiences.(Supplied: Jemima Robinson)

“They’re showcasing different, amazing parts of the world, and the people out there are just living their best lives and encouraging people to dream big,” Ms Robinson said.

“We’ve seen such a big change [in audience] coming now… people from all walks of life.

“Now we get the mountain bike enthusiast and his grandmother.

“It’s good medicine for everyone.”