I hope this blog finds you well in these unprecedented times

Oops, it appears that I have not written anything in this blog for…*checks* about a billion years. Firstly, I was kind of busy writing up my thesis. That was a pretty intense time, I sort of loved it though in a very stressed out and knackered way. Then I had my viva, which again I sort of loved in a very stressed out and knackered way. My examiners were beyond lovely, I got minor corrections and it was just a complete privilege to have spent several hours with two very clever people discussing my thesis. I got together with a bunch of other people from my PhD cohort and we had a drink and discussed our forthcoming graduation. That was in February 2020 (this is the bit where you imagine ominous music…)

Obviously, the graduation did not happen because lockdown 1 did instead, and that was just plain horrible and anxiety-provoking and stressful and lonely and boring. Still, graduation day arrived and I decided to celebrate it virtually (but with real champagne). I had acres of time on my hands, so I made a fake graduation gown with a red dress and some of my son’s school ties, and a fake floppy hat out of a flat cap and lots of black underpants.

I think it compares quite well with the genuine article (modelled by some lovely maths PhDs below), and I should have kept it handy to save myself 58 whole quid when the real live graduation finally happens (hopefully July!). It was certainly more fun than making sourdough anyway!

I also started a job as an associate lecturer with the Open University last year, which has been very rewarding and a steep learning curve in mastering the online teaching software and how to make a tutorial engaging when neither you nor the students can see each other (and most of the time the students won’t use the microphone, so it’s like teaching a brick wall sometimes!). The marking is immensely time consuming as giving feedback on assignments is the main part of the job in the OU, but I’m getting to grips with it, and it is so lovely getting nice emails from students saying they appreciate the feedback. Even better when you mark their next assignment and they have really taken notice of the feedback and improved. It makes you feel like a proud parent whose kid has just mastered riding a bike or something! It’s strange not meeting students at all in person, but I feel very fond and proud of my students, who often have huge mental, emotional, physical, financial or logistical hurdles to overcome in order to study. I believe that psychology is the most interesting subject there is, and it’s great to be able to share this passion for my subject with students at the start of their degree.

Back to exercise! Obviously, covid changed a lot of people’s relationship with exercise last year. Online exercise classes finally became a thing, after years of sort of lurking about as a possibility. I switched from doing classes in halls and the trampoline park to my kitchen (my local gym is being rebuilt). A year on, and to be honest, the novelty is starting to wear off! There are definite benefits though, in not having to travel and being able to do a class on catchup instead of live, or whilst cooking roast potatoes during interval breaks. I do wonder whether some online classes will keep going when real life classes can start back for good. There was one memorable Zumba class last year where 6 of us gathered in one person’s garden (the legal limit at the time), and the teacher set up her laptop so that other people could join in the dancing fun from all over the place, Northern Ireland and Germany being the furthest away. Fundamentally though, whether some sort of hybrid emerges from this (I’d happily continue doing Zoom yoga, you are basically lying down with your eyes shut listening to the teacher for most of it), I think we have all learnt that exercising with other people is about more than just the exercise. It’s also the banter, the laughing, the complaining that the teacher is making you do burpees FAR TOO EARLY IN THE MORNING, and the feeling of moving in time to the music with other people. Those things are very hard to recreate online via a Facebook chat box, though it is funny watching the teacher trip over her dog or accidentally swing a weight into the light above her head…

In my research on running, I found that even people running alone really appreciated social interactions. Obviously, there are many people who choose to run precisely because you can do it alone, and many people like the solitude and the convenience of that. Often, though, my participants discussed a tiny social encounter as being the highlight of their run, whether it was seeing someone doing something funny like taking a chicken for a walk in a pram (true participant feedback), or sharing a lighthearted moment such as a joke, a laugh or even a smile from a stranger. My participants also sometimes ran with other people, or brought a friend or family member along to the park with them for company. Even a solo exercise like running turns out to be surprisingly social.

During lockdown 1, we were not allowed to meet anyone from outside our household, not even outdoors. As someone whose main social outlet is running with a friend or friends, this was really hard to cope with. My running mileage plummeted (not helped by the government message being ‘stay at home, only exercise once a day’). Also, suddenly instead of exchanging friendly chat with others when outdoors, the whole social dynamic changed. There was so much fear and anxiety about covid and about how it might be spread that just seeing other people caused a feeling of dread, especially if they turned away or suddenly pulled their tshirt over their face! It was a properly scary time, not helped by media clickbait about how heaving sweaty runners were more likely to spread covid (still ongoing, even now). The battle for space become an even more fraught one, with pedestrians suddenly leaping onto the road to avoid others (seriously, being hit by a bus is significantly more likely to damage your health than the remote possibility of catching covid from a metre away outdoors). Though some good did come of this time, such as widening footpaths in town centres to reallocate space to pedestrians instead of cars, I’m not convinced how long this will last.

The stats on running last year were also interesting. Gyms were shut for much of the year, so according to Sport England statistics, running (which had been rocketing in terms of participation) flatlined, as treadmill running was no longer possible. The stats on walking and running (and also cycling) changing with the different lockdowns is really worth looking at (you can see it here https://www.sportengland.org/know-your-audience/demographic-knowledge/coronavirus?section=research )

Anyway, I remembered why I don’t blog much here, I spend entirely far too much time rambling! I might do a quick blog about some of the physical activity data and the changes with covid, it is kind of fascinating, especially from the perspective of a running researcher. But that’ll have to wait, I’m off to walk 10 miles round the Surrey Hills with my walking group, now it’s legal again!

conference, research, Uncategorized

Blogs are like buses…


I recently wrote a blog post for the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change ‘Digi-Hub’ (is it me or does that sound like a Playstation accessory or something?) about some of the digital intervention research presented at the ISPAH conference. It was interesting to reflect specifically on this subject, because it’s such a huge topic and becoming increasingly relevant. And also because I’ve been using digital behaviour change tools myself in my studies (podcasts and walking/running apps amongst others). I have another blog post to write about a fascinating symposium I attended at the conference which was basically about using digital tools to measure and investigate physical activity, but that can wait for another day…Plus, it’s NaNoWriMo! Time to get stuck into writing!

Here’s the blog post link

conference, posters, presentations, Uncategorized

Running in quickly to post some posters

I just got back from a conference in London (ISPAH, International Society for Physical Activity for Health). It was an excellent conference with loads of interesting research and lots of interesting people to talk to. I’ll blog about the conference later, but before I forget I’ll just post my two posters which relate to my Running Commentary and Walk Jog Smile studies.

First off, here is my Walk Jog Smile poster, it’s a short summary of the study and an overview of the main results. I have lots more data to analyse so this is just the headlines!

Click here to see an expanded PDF version:

WalkJogSmile poster


I presented the second poster as an oral e-poster, which basically involved talking about it in 3 minutes. Not an easy task! This poster is about some interesting stuff I noticed when I was doing the qualitative analysis of the Running Commentary results. The words ‘running is…’ and ‘runners are…’ kept popping up and I dug into these a bit more and looked at how people used these different ideas to negotiate staying with running or dropping out. It was interesting to see how these ideas played out in different ways depending on other concepts people could bring in, or the type of running group or leader or sessions. There are also some practical recommendations which follow on from this, which after all is the point of research to me!

So here is my What They Talk About When They Talk About Running poster, click here for an expanded PDF version!

What they talk about when they talk about running poster

I’m very happy to get comments, questions or feedback on my posters, leave a comment or email or tweet me! Thanks for dropping by 🙂

research, writing

Tools of the trade



I have a few bits of software which I use for my PhD which are not exactly run-of-the-mill (and some actually cost me money, albeit are great value) and I thought I’d write a blog about how they help me in my research.

First up is Scrivener. I have nooooo idea how people could write a PhD thesis using Microsoft Word. Word is hideous. It’s not as bad as Outlook (seriously awful) but having a word processor which crashes all the time (particularly with large documents) and seems to hate its users is not my idea of fun. Scrivener, on the other hand, is a pleasure to use. It was designed by people who actually seem to want to help you to write, and although it is extremely powerful with lots of features, you can just pick it up and start writing and figure out the bits you want to use later. You can dump ideas, web pages and references in there, compare different versions of documents side by side, take snapshots, write in a distraction-free environment, make a writing plan, move stuff around, work on tiny pieces of writing or zoom out to see the bigger picture, stitch different bits of writing together, edit fairly painlessly, add comments in lots of different ways, and probably do a few other million things I haven’t even explored yet. And it has never, ever crashed on me. You can also write on your iPad, or even on your iPhone if you’re a masochist, and your work syncs easily between devices without you having to think about it. It also avoids the problem of version control which plagues Word, so if you edit a document down you can take a snapshot (which you can then ‘roll back’) or you can dump the original version into another folder so it’s still there and accessible but not cluttering up your laptop with ‘final final version 2.1 15thApril2018. doc’.

Next is Quirkos, a simple bit of software for doing qualitative analysis. It’s basically a visual method of coding text by dragging and dropping relevant bits onto coloured bubbles which you can then move around to help your analysis. Although you might want to use something with more features (like NVivo) if you were doing a massive qualitative or group project, for my smallish studies it has been perfect, with almost no learning curve. It’s also very pleasant and pretty to use. The one thing it’s missing is a memo function (which is coming in the future apparently), but you can get round that in different ways. You can add memos to the project itself, which is what I did for my Resolve to Walk study, or you can screenshot the ‘canvas’ and chuck it in Scrivener to write about the big picture, which is what I’m doing for my Walk Jog Smile study (I’m using structured questions so adding memos won’t work for this).  Below is an example of some preliminary coding I’ve been doing for one study, I basically start coding as I add each interview or questionnaire, then keep coding as I go along. Then when I have a whole big mess on the screen and I think some patterns will become apparent I move things around into similar concepts and write about what I’m doing and what’s working and what needs more thinking about. You can click on any of the bubbles to see who said what in what context, you can do an overlap view to see which codes are closest, and you can run queries for different categories (this has been useful for me to compare different study conditions). There are a bunch of other features I don’t use much which are probably useful. The Quirkos blog is interesting and useful, and the developer is also super helpful if you have a problem. Whenever I do a talk and show my pretty Quirkos pics people want to know more, so I think there is definitely a place for Quirkos for those who don’t need the bells and whistles of other software.

Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 07.41.35

Finally, one more tool of the trade which has been extremely useful is If This Then That. This is a bit hard to explain, but it’s basically a way of linking different apps together to accomplish a certain goal, with no coding required. So you use something happening in one app as a ‘trigger’ to do something in another app. Below are a couple of the ‘healthy habits applets’ showing some different things you could automate if you’re so inclined.

Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 08.12.24

I’ve been using IFTTT as a way of emailing participants a feedback questionnaire each time they’ve completed an activity. It’s basically a neat way of doing an online diary study, and I’m not sure how else I could have managed this without either some serious technical knowledge or using some kind of commercial gadgetry. Neither of those are really within my research budget of approximately £0.05. It’s also been a massive time saver for me. I had to manually transfer all my app data for a previous study and it took me literally weeks to do and was open to data entry errors, whereas IFTTT does this all for me and pops the data I need into a spreadsheet. Amazing. Now if someone could come up with something similar for transcribing, that would be even more amazing!


research, Uncategorized, writing



The lovely people at Surrey Uni RDP ran an AcWriMo programme in November, for people to set goals and write All the Words in November. I did set some targets, and made progress towards these goals, but fundamentally November was a bit of a nightmare for writing. I didn’t manage to make it to a single event at uni, which was annoying as I could have done with some company.  Most of my writing was on trains or ferries or at train stations or ferry terminals, or in my car (not whilst driving, obviously!) On occasion, the views could be distracting:


So the question asked by the RDP blog is ‘What have you learned and where do you go from here?’

To which my response is:

Don’t expect to make much progress in a month which involves: teaching, renovating/decorating/furnishing a whole house (slightly time consuming, even when it’s not been me wielding the power tools and paintbrushes, so many decisions to make and shopping to do), taking kids to school open evenings, parent teacher interviews, car servicing/MOTs, multiple orthodontist appointments, selling a car (serious time suck), Christmas shopping, doing amendments to an ethics protocol, trying to organise a conference symposium, a muddy race and a standup comedy set to write and rehearse. On top of the usual chaos of family life, laundry, meals and food shopping for kids who can hoover up carbs faster than the speed of light. I did manage to complete my data entry though, I did it in the evenings when too tired to do anything else, in front of some property porn with a glass of wine…

Where do I go from here? I’m declaring AcWriJan instead, it’s going pretty well so far. Paradoxically, January is likely to be less breakneck in pace than November was. December was a bit of a write-off with lots more house stuff to order and organise (and a husband who is incapable of measuring a doorway before ordering a sofa…), a dose of the lurgy and Christmas stuff. I did complete my annual goal though of running 1000 miles, which I am very proud of, even though it required some serious determination during the final 2 weeks (and coughing up several lungs).

Anyway, I must get on with some more interview transcriptions, as I would really like to present some more of my findings from my Resolve to Walk study this year. The buzz round New Year’s resolutions at this time of year is a good reminder that I need to wrap up all the analyses from this study. Oh, the irony of having a resolution to finish a study about resolutions…Technically, the resolution part of this study isn’t strictly related to my thesis topic, but it’s too fascinating to ignore! Happy New Year!




This September and October I’m doing a yoga streak (YoTember and Yogtober: giving it a funky name makes it A Thing, you know). I’m following some YouTube videos by Adriene, who is a sweet, funny teacher who makes it clear that even if you’re like me and crap at yoga, you should still just do what you can.

Adriene has a LOT of different videos which seem ridiculously specific. Just a few:

Yoga for Teachers

Yoga for the Service Industry

Yoga for Golfers

Yoga for Loneliness

Yoga for Anxiety

Yoga for Focus and Productivity

Yoga for a Broken Heart

Yoga for Diabetes

The other day I did her Serenity video and was amused by Adriene saying ‘Serenity Now’ and then giggling. ‘Serenity Now’ is from a Seinfeld episode, where one of the characters (Frank) is advised for the sake of his blood pressure to say ‘serenity now’ when he gets angry.  Cue Frank sitting in a car screaming ‘SERENITY NOWWWWW!’ with all his available lung capacity.  The Serenity Now approach spreads across the characters, culminating in Kramer reaching breaking point and smashing up George’s computers. As an anger management strategy, yoga seems like a better bet than an abused mantra 🙂

It struck me that lots of people who run probably use different types of runs in similar ways to Adriene’s targeted approach, even if it’s not intentional. Maybe we need running coaches to prescribe types of running for certain moods or life circumstances instead of just purely for improving speed or form or cadence or whatever? The prescription would include recommendations on speed, environment, running companions, maybe even what type of music to listen to.

Off the top of my head:

Running for anxiety: this would have to be a short sharp hill workout. It’s difficult when you’re running up hills to feel anxious about anything other than coughing up a lung or three.  And if you’re anxious about work stuff then hills are very time-efficient.  Some hill reps require putting in consistent effort on each repeat, which requires a fair amount of focus on your watch and your effort level, both of which are great at taking your mind off any life anxieties. Music should be fast and loud!


Running for Self Care: this would be a medium length slow run somewhere scenic, music should be a bit slower and more contemplative, or maybe a podcast. A river is ideal for this sort of run, though woods would be good too, but preferably somewhere flattish. A relaxing, meditative sort of run, preferably done at dusk with the sky turning pink or lemon.


Running for anger: speedwork. Either a tempo run or long intervals. Flat terrain, keep your eye on your watch and release that anger via your feet. This is the serenity now run without the shouting. Music should be fast and catchy.


Running for loneliness: a long run-walk with a friend. Preferably somewhere pretty. The soundtrack is you and your friend putting the world to rights. Plenty of stops for selfies, photos of the scenery and preferably a cafe at the end for coffee or lunch.


The interesting thing about these sorts of runs (and the other many and varied ways that people use different runs for different reasons) is the role the environment plays (both social and physical). How we feel during and after a run is the sum of so many things. How we feel beforehand, what’s going on in our lives, what we’ve eaten and drunk, where we’re running, who we’re running with, our goal that day, the weather, the distance being covered, the list goes on.

Sometimes this all comes together to give you an experience which is called ‘the runner’s high’. This is a fuzzy concept which seems poorly understood and is usually attributed by runners as being down to ‘endorphins’. Evidence for this seems mixed, however, and the more recent focus has been on the ‘endocannabinoid hypothesis’, see here for a complicated but interesting paper on the subject. There is another fascinating (and I think hilarious) paper here about a comparison of endocannabinoid level changes in dogs, ferrets and humans looking at walking versus running on a treadmill. In fact, the ferrets refused to walk on the treadmill and were stuck in a cage instead, I’m imagining a bunch of ferrets with sulky faces here sticking their tongue out at the experimenters. But basically, the results were that the dogs’ levels went up significantly after running on the treadmill (and down after walking! Seems like instead of talking about walking the dog we should talk about running the dog?)


Levels for humans also went up significantly after running on the treadmill (the humans were recreational runners). The ferrets did run on the treadmill but seemed to stay sulky then too, because there was no significant difference for them. Sensible ferrets.

Although this is obviously only one (small-scale) study, it’s interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact that there was nothing interesting happening with the walk for humans, which makes sense (it’s a runner’s high, not a walker’s high, plus treadmill walking for 30 minutes must be incredibly tedious). The treadmill speed was controlled, which is likely to make it less enjoyable for humans (possibly for dogs too, but it’s difficult to ask dogs if they are having fun: ‘Woof once for yes, twice for no’?) There was a correlation between ‘positive affect’ (measured using terms such as: ‘attentive, interested, alert, excited, enthusiastic, inspired, proud, determined, strong and active’) and changes in endocannabinoid activity, so that positive affect increased as activity did. It makes you wonder if the runner’s high is on a continuum though, or is it a unique phenomenon when a threshold level of neurotransmitters is exceeded? There is still a lot of disagreement on how to define the runner’s high, how to measure it and even whether it actually exists (which seems a bit stupid, given that it’s a subjective experience!) It also seems very under-researched in psychology, with most of the research focusing on neurotransmitters and brain activity. Although some of these studies did include psychological measures such as affect scales, none of them seemed to ask the runners if they were actually experiencing a runner’s high…

Recently I had the most amazing runner’s high experience during a 5 mile race, and it was unusual in that it lasted throughout the whole race, not just at the end (which is where the research focus seems to be). I don’t think it was coincidental that it was during a race, either; the pre-race nerves, the crowds of people, the banter with smiling marshals and other runners all contributed to it, I’m sure. It was a tough, tough, hilly race, with beautiful views from the top of the hill and the most amazing long swooping descents. I felt like I was flying down those hills, and I was squealing with joy like a little kid most of the way down. The hills were grassy and a little bit uneven so you had to focus a little bit on not slipping on sheep shit, but because it was just grass you felt quite safe in going fast. I have never felt such total euphoria for such a long time, it was incredible but really hard to explain.

The race ended at the bottom of one of the long hills, so you got a great view of the finishing area and you could anticipate the end (which is important in feeling good during the last bit). I crossed the line in a sprint finish with my friend and stood about for a bit chatting to my friend and the other runners. My euphoria and excitement during the race now shifted down a notch to a feeling of huge peace and contentment (it’s sooo difficult to describe all this!) I said to someone ‘I’ve never taken heroin, but this is what I imagine it must feel like, no wonder it’s addictive’. I didn’t so much drive home as float on a cloud of pure bliss, and this effect lasted for a couple of hours afterwards.

A few weeks later I went running with a friend and we more or less recreated the route of the race. It was a lovely run, with the same beautiful views and swooping downhills, but this time there was no runner’s high. This might have been partly because we ran 5 miles first so we were tired before starting the route, but mostly I think it was because all of the elements of the race were missing other than the geography. Which just goes to show how reductive a focus on brain chemicals is: the euphoria might have been due to endorphins/endocannabinoids/insert brain chemical of choice here, but the real cause of the euphoria was not the movement of my legs resulting in neurotransmitter changes, but rather the sum total of the race experience and how I felt going into that race.  And next year (because there is no way I’m not doing this race again!) I might do exactly the same race with many of the same elements in place but not feel that extreme level of euphoria which I did this year. I usually feel amazing after finishing a race, but this particular occasion was truly exceptional for both the level of euphoria and for the amount of time it lasted. It was fascinating!

I’ve felt a ‘runner’s high’ on previous occasions, but it’s usually when finishing a race or a set of intervals (it seems like usually something strenuous is involved), and it’s not happened often during a normal training run or a ‘just for fun’ run. A few exceptions stand out in my memory. One was a run along the Thames at sunset on a June evening. The temperature was warm but not too warm, the cow parsley was out in full force, the trees were a gorgeous shade of green, the air was full of summer smells, the river was reflecting the evening light, and my running felt effortless and like my body was part of the landscape. This feeling only lasted a few minutes, but several years later I can still remember the feeling of deep contentment, flow and immersion in my surroundings. As you can tell from the description though, it was qualitatively different from my recent experience. Perhaps we need different categories or words to describe such different subjective experiences?

Anyway, I have rambled enough here! The actual point of this blog is to celebrate running and how it can affect your emotions and moods (usually for good: there’s a common saying amongst runners ‘you never regret a run’). Some people might get similar improvements and ‘highs’ from cycling or swimming (all I get from them usually is irritation at drivers or other people in the pool…) but for me, running does so much more than just exercise my legs and cardiovascular system. And even if you don’t experience a true runner’s high, even small improvements in how you feel can be worthwhile.

I want as many people as possible to share this joy, this connection with the environment and with other people, this contentment, this exhilaration, all these positive effects on your life. It saddens me when running is reduced by people to concepts such as weight loss or numbers on a watch. There is so much richness to be added to your life through running, which is probably why runners are evangelical about it. It’s hard getting started running though, which is why my next study is looking at beginner running podcasts and people’s experiences of them (and how we can improve these experiences). Watch this space for more details 🙂







conference, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Nudge nudge wink wink

Yes, it’s the famous urinal fly nudge…


Blog number 3? of ??? for the ISBNPA2017 conference. I have been busy working like a Trojan on PhD stuff and well, laundry. If someone else did the family’s laundry for me I think I could probably finish this PhD a year earlier…But anyway, better blog quickly before I forget everything, it’s already been a month!

Friday, I was a bit stiff after running quite a bit the previous day (and frankly, these conference ‘jogs’ are aimed at much faster runners than me…) so I went to the yoga. Ahh, that’s better! I’ve got quite into yoga recently, I just need to find time and a decent class. Luckily both were provided at ISBNPA.

The conference started early with a symposium on the psychology of sedentary behaviour. This isn’t really my field but the speakers were great (though #allmalepanel here, tut) Having a female discussant or chair DOES NOT COUNT, MEN TRYING TO JUSTIFY THEIR ALLMALEPANELS, JUST TRY HARDER!


Anyway, it WAS a good symposium. The twinkly Ryan Rhodes kicked off with some really interesting stuff about whether the psychology of physical activity can help us understand and design interventions on sedentary behaviour. I cornered him at the conference dinner and gabbled some completely unintelligible rubbish at him about potential sedentary behaviour interventions based on affect. I’m sure there was some potential in there on the basis that affect might have a greater influence on more habitual sorts of behaviour than exercise, but it was a month ago, it’s all a bit hazy…Rhodes’s talk was sort of a ‘state of play of psychology’s role in sedentary behaviour’ so he had some interesting directions to suggest future research might go in.

Ben Gardner was next with some lovely studies, I really enjoy his interesting, refreshing approach to research questions! I’d like to be him when I grow up. Only I’m already older than him, oh well.

He had a good argument: people don’t say stuff like ‘that person is sitting’, they say ‘that person is reading a book’ (though actually, when I was a teen I used to walk whilst reading, I saw a teen boy recently doing that and grinned my head off at the memory of being that stuck in a book), so the ‘sitting’ bit of the reading activity then becomes invisible, so that people underestimate their sedentary behaviour. It was quite interesting actually, if people don’t see that their sitting behaviour as a problem because they’re not aware of their sitting behaviour (it’s just work, playing computer games, watching telly, driving, etc) then how can they even think about whether to change their behaviour?

Finally, Stuart Biddle (who appeared to be imitating a pirate at this conference with his big earring and stubble!) looked at the evidence for mental health and sedentary behaviour

His conclusions:

Reverse causality IS a big issue in this area: do people get depressed from sitting too much or do depressed people sit a lot? Cross-sectional studies can’t really distinguish the two. The bit about some types of sedentary behaviour being good for mental health is interesting: as the mum of a teen and a teen in training, I can see that a lot of their social lives outside school are carried out online (leaving aside debates about why that is…), and if people are spending sedentary time engaged in meaningful, enjoyable activities then clearly that can carry mental health benefits.


Talking of teenagers, I was texting my kids in between sessions when they got home from school, with my usual exhortations to get them out of the house and actually doing some form of exercise…

I appealed for help from the experts at the conference but they must have been too busy texting their own kids to reply…

After this it was lunch, my knee was hurting a little bit from all the standing I was doing (not a fan of standing for long periods!), so I was really interested to try out the wobble boards provided in one area, one of them kept throwing people off, but the one I tried was really comfortable and made my legs feel great (must investigate further…)

After lunch was a keynote by Denise de Ridder on nudging, it was a fantastic talk

She made some good points about cultural differences in attitudes towards nudging. Nudging is politically popular (because fundamentally it’s usually cheap and you’re making the right decisions the more convenient ones without denying autonomy). However, cultures differ according to the amount governments are trusted to make decisions on behalf of citizens, etc. This was a really interesting point, and as usual at international conferences it was interesting to reflect on the social norms and priorities of different countries and cultures and how that influences health.

Denise thought though that psychologists were ok with the concept of nudging: we know that people’s intentions are not always followed through with the desired behaviour.

Then she gave a bit of background to where nudging came from:

Then she moved on to whether nudges are acceptable: broadly yes, but it depends on the source of the nudge and the context

Then a bit of experimental evidence on the acceptability of nudges

But some aspects of nudges might make them less appealing:

Leading to her point: ‘cute’ nudges might be more attention seeking, but if they are too in your face they aren’t really nudges, and might be annoying. A good nudge is fairly invisible by its nature…

It was a great keynote, but Denise didn’t really answer my question very well. I was describing how Victoria makes it incredibly easy for people to drive by having car parking right outside the shops and letting people pay for parking via an app for a couple of minutes they were there (making it convenient for both local government to collect parking meter money and for locals to pay for parking without even getting out of their car and walking a few metres to a machine!). I was asking whether you could use the concept of nudging to point out that actually, people are being nudged all the time in the WRONG direction, and perhaps you could harness nudging by making the case for less convenience for the undesired behaviour. I don’t think she really understood my question, or maybe I haven’t got the whole concept of nudging, but her reply was that nudging could only ever be in a positive direction (which I thought was a very Dutch answer of hers). I still think there’s a case for the ‘anti-nudge’ but I suppose that has potential to be desperately unpopular. Still, there are limits to what nudging can do for, say, cycling, without at some stage making car driving less convenient (the anti-nudge).


One memorable part of this conference for me was meeting different people from all over the world and seeing things from a slightly different angle. I got chatting to the men below, who were from Hong Kong. I sat in the 2nd row most of the time so I could tweet photos, but they were always in the front row. So I asked them why they always sat there:

Professor Lam and Dr Shen gave me a demo of their ‘zero time exercise’ concept by showing me all the exercise they could do just sitting in their chairs during otherwise unproductive time at a conference. I thought it was a genius idea but would love to know how to make it into something which people could stick to long term. We had a brainstorming session on names ‘Fidget for Fun’! ‘Fidget for your life’! If you want to know more below is Professor Lam on Youtube 🙂 The other thing I found interesting was that it was in complete contrast to any of the physical activity or sedentary behaviour concepts covered during the rest of the conference. I wondered whether actually this had to do with cultural differences, with Western concepts of physical activity as either needing to be ‘proper’ exercise or at a pinch walking or cycling for transport, and also whether things like t’ai chi, with its very slow controlled movements played into the idea of chair exercise as being a valid form of exercise. Really fascinating stuff!


And that was it for what I tweeted that day, I think I had to nip off early to go and get changed ready for the conference dinner, which was all a bit odd but great fun meeting a big range of people in a room which used to be a swimming pool. I left early because I was absolutely knackered and still had to get the bus back to my AirBnB (couldn’t work out whether the chap who talked to me on the bus was just being friendly or chatting me up, Victoria is just that kind of place!) They were all ultra-polite!


Urinal fly photo: By Stefan Bellini (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Psychology shows that bras are more attention-grabbing than maps



Eurgh, I am SOOOO jetlagged! I have conference blog number ? to write but my brain is just not cooperating right now. Plus this is apparently the one week of the year when England decides to imitate the weather of Singapore.

So I’m just going to link to my conference posters. I had a bunch of interesting conversations about both posters, but it was noticeable that the Running Commentary study one attracted a lot more attention than my Resolve to Walk study one. I *think* this might be related to the colourful photo I used of a woman wearing a bright pink bra (over her clothes, I wasn’t aiming for the lingerie ad look!), whereas people said they thought the map on my Resolve to Walk poster was attractive but fewer people came and talked to me about it. Take-home message: depressingly, sex does indeed sell…

Anyway, here is the Running Commentary poster, I called it ‘Accentuate the positive: how beginner running groups manage affective responses to exercise’, you can enlarge it by clicking here. The concept behind this poster came less from the thematic analysis itself than from my ponderings over what sort of things were different in an outdoor, group exercise context compared with an individual exercising in a lab. And one thing which really leapt out at me when observing the groups and listening to the audio recordings was a real sense of group positivity which is obviously missing from an individual exercising alone. As well as using my field notes and analysing the transcripts, I also looked at the themes which I’d drawn out which implied some sort of positive emotion and/or emotion regulation. There were more themes than I could fit into the poster, so this is very much a work in progress, in particular in future work on this I would like to look at the role of reappraisal as an affect regulation strategy, as there is research suggesting that it is an important strategy, along with distraction (Augustine and Hemenover, 2009; Rose and Parfitt, 2010).

Accentuate the positive final 05JUN17


My second poster was from my Resolve to Walk study, and squeezed in some mixed methods results on the main question of my PhD: does how people feel during exercise relate to their future physical activity behaviour in real life (not laboratory) situations? The answer from my quantitative analyses seems to suggest it doesn’t, which is counter-intuitive but I had some ideas about why the context here was important (which is why it is really useful to use mixed methods to dig into this context). Although my finding was counterintuitive, I also think it makes sense: most people feel better during walking, yet people tend not to walk if they can possibly avoid it (this is fundamentally why there is so much research on physical activity, after all!). Although the results of interventions seem to show that how people feel during walking on a treadmill is related to their future physical activity levels, going for a walk outdoors during your lunch hour doesn’t seem to be similarly related. I speculated that there might be an effect that people feel much better during an outdoor walk compared with a treadmill walk. I actually have an interesting graph showing the trends in affective responses during walking in different environments from a load of different studies, but unfortunately there wasn’t space to squeeze this into my poster. The take-home from the graph though is that people feel considerably better during outdoor walking compared with on a treadmill, with one study actually showing a decline in affective response when walking on a treadmill. This is slightly complicated by studies using participants of different activity levels, but fundamentally it just seems to feel more pleasant walking outdoors (I know, shocking, right?) There are also some alternative explanations for my results, such as a lack of power compared with other studies, the self-report nature of the measures at 6 months and perhaps the nature of the study itself (being a more naturalistic sort of field study rather than a formal intervention).

From my qualitative interviews with participants, a number of reasons for walking or not walking emerged. Interestingly, many of these seem to map onto walking domains, dimensions and correlates from Paul Kelly’s paper, suggesting that the multi-dimensional nature of walking is not just an issue for physical activity researchers, but also for participants themselves. It seems as if the meanings behind walking had participants confused when it came to setting and meeting walking goals, because there are so many different aspects and types of walking.

So here is the second poster, the map is from a Strava route I made (I asked participants to use the Strava app on their phones to log their walking) and again my thoughts on this poster are at a very preliminary stage. Click here for an expanded version of the poster!

post office poster final

Any comments or questions on either poster would be extremely welcome 🙂




  1. Genusfotografen (genusfotografen.se) & Wikimedia Sverige (wikimedia.se) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

2. By AM048E (Ordnance Survey) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

ISBNPA2017 Conference blog 2 of n…

Well we’ll see how this goes as to just how long this is, might need to be a couple of blogs because wow, there was a LOT going on during this conference! I’ve basically just used my Twitter stream as a long blog with some comments on stuff I found particularly interesting.

Thursday dawned durky and rainy, which was nice for the morning conference jog. 2 very lovely local ladies took me around a local park, I assume the views were nice but my glasses kept steaming up in the rain!

Thursday required quite a lot of logistics as my AirBnB was 2 miles away, the conference started at 8am and the jog was at 7am, with the fun run in the evening. Lots of quick changes and extra running kit required! Luckily I’d put my posters up the previous evening (will link to PDFs in another blog)

First up was a symposium on activity trackers, which was really interesting

There was some great qualitative research into people’s actual experiences of using activity trackers, with some unexpected findings:

This led to an interesting exchange over Twitter about WHY these social features were unpopular. Some people weren’t even at the conference, this is the power of Twitter for me!


There were some questions about discontinuing use which were interesting but a bit surface level to my mind. I think perhaps the emotional aspects could be more important perhaps? If you have a spell where you’re not as active as you ‘should’ be, this could be frustrating and perhaps even embarrassing. It’s fine to get a nice ego boost for getting 15000 steps in a day, but if you have a day where you’re chained to the desk and get a couple of thousand, that to me is quite negative information likely to make you stop using a tracker, especially if this happens a lot …

One fantastic thing about ISBNPA: there are a LOT of female speakers!


One annoying thing about conferences is that you miss stuff happening in parallel sessions, but that’s where Twitter comes in handy! I need to find out more about this study as it looks really relevant to my research:

Next up was the poster session, I had lots of interesting conversations about my posters (and people said they liked my titles!) though I really wish the organisers had put my posters next to each other and not back to back on one board! It was noticeable that my running poster with the photo of the BRA got the most attention…

I also chatted with Elaine Hargreaves, whose paper I based my running study on, oh the excitement! It was really cool chatting to her about the study, particularly as one of the recommendations in the paper was to do a similar study in a more ecologically valid context (which is pretty much what I did!)

I went and looked at some of the posters after my session had finished, as I love seeing other people’s work even if it’s not quite in my area, I liked the one above about harassment of cyclists. The ones below I was sorry to miss the authors of, but it was great to see some running research:

This poster was the most eyecatching of the conference to me, such great design:

The final session of the day for me was a symposium on behaviour change maintenance, which was fascinating. Mainly because nobody knows how to define it, how to measure it, what to do about it. Which is kinda unfortunate when it’s the DEFINING problem of behaviour change!

First up was some discussion of the role of theory in maintenance. Oh god, behaviour change really doesn’t need yet more theories does it?

I was really flagging by this stage, but there was a fascinating talk by Rachel (think that was her first name, the programme just says ‘R’) Burns from McGill on using incentives in maintenance of physical activity. For some reason I didn’t tweet any other slides from this symposium. She had some interesting thoughts on applying stuff from other fields, such as pro-environmental behaviour. But I’m a bit sceptical about how lessons from a fairly habitual behaviour like recycling can be translated into physical activity, which seems much less habitual (though this is debatable given the definition of physical activity when it includes some quite automatic behaviour like active travel…)

Finally, Ryan Rhodes discussed some of the issues brought up by the talks, and encouraged discussion. But frankly, everyone was either too bewildered or too knackered by this stage of the evening (starting at 8am and finishing after 6pm is a LOT of brain work!) It would be really useful to keep discussing this subject as it’s such a key idea. Personally I have my own ideas about maintenance and what it looks like, which I think is different from most ideas because the very way RCTs are set up implies a certain model of a person, and a certain model of behaviour, and people are NOT that simple! Maybe I’ll write something about my Wave Theory of Behaviour Change Maintenance in the future.

Anyway, by now it was time for the conference fun run, the rain had gone and the wind had whipped up. We ran along the waterfront and out to the ‘breakwater’ and running back with the wind behind us was as much fun as running into it was hard work!

I staggered back onto the bus to go back to my AirBnb and collapse into bed, it was quite a long day, not helped by the general election unfolding in the UK, and I was trying to keep up with events there too!

Well at least with all that thinking, my body was as active as my brain!

Right, that’s enough wittering for now, I’ll obviously have to do a blog post for each day of the conference given how much there is to talk about. I find it really useful to reflect on the things I found useful or interesting during a conference. Sometimes they are not at all what you might expect, which was the case for Friday’s sessions…

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Crow Pose, Nudging and #BeMoreAmish

This is a blog about a conference I attended last week, ISBNPA2017 (International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, it’s a mouthful so people call it IZ-BIN-PA) It was a wonderful conference and I learnt so much, so I’m going to quickly jot stuff down about it before it disappears in a haze of travel and jetlag. In fact, it will have to be a couple of blogs, there is so much to cover! And this one alone will consume far more screen ink than strictly necessary, just look at the photos if you’re short of time.

I arrived early in Victoria, BC. I’d never been to Canada before so I was really excited! I met up with my good friend Elizabeth Ablah, from Wichita Kansas, we talked our heads off because we hadn’t seen each other since the Edinburgh ISNBNPA 2 years earlier. Apologies to the other people on the bus for our cackling and shrieking, we were excited to be together again…We did make good friends with a couple on the bus from Adelaide, but we forgot to ask their names so we spent the week texting each other possible names for them (It’s Bill and Pat, by the way. Elaine is just wrong, and certainly NOT Philip!)

We took the bus to the famous Butchart Gardens, and Elizabeth almost had a coronary with excitement at all the flowers. None of them had name labels on them (why not?!) so I had to delve deep into my memory to recall most of the names. I do now know the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons (azaleas have 5 stamens and rhododendrons 10+). The peonies were TO DIE FOR. And the irises were pretty amazing too. The front gardens of the houses in Victoria and Vancouver were just incredible, I’m going home determined to make my front garden as pretty as some of the ones I saw in Canada!

There was a lovely Japanese garden at Butchart, and a little pond with stepping stones across. We watched as a chap did some yoga (crow pose) on the stepping stones and applauded. Then Elizabeth decided to have a go…

Well, it was a very hot and sunny day, and she was wearing technical fabric trousers, they dried remarkably quickly!

She grazed her chin though, so we had to take selfies with weird chin-hiding going on so she didn’t feel bad about it.

I kind of promised her I wouldn’t put these photos on Twitter. I never promised her not to put them on the internet full stop…

Wednesday morning dawned and I decided to go for a run, it was pretty spectacular. Look at these photos!

Back to the AirBnB and quick shower and onto the bus to town for an 8am start (jet lag is REALLY handy sometimes, I was awake at 4 or 5 every day). Today there was a choice of pre-conference workshops, and whole day vs half day ones. I really like doing pre-conference workshops, you get to know people in much smaller groups compared with the main conference, you get lots of discussion and you get hands on experience with different methods and issues. I would say that they are the most useful (and sociable) part of any conference and definitely worth attending.

The first workshop I chose was on nudging. This was fantastic, as a psychologist I am really intrigued by the concept of nudging. It was run by the magnificent Denise de Ridder (no other adjective could apply) and Emely de Vett, both from the Netherlands. There was some discussion on the ethics of nudging, which I won’t cover here, but some interesting cultural differences were raised. If you’re at all interested in nudging, there are some papers on Denise’s website which are worth reading. And the self-regulation paper with Mann and Fujita linked to on there is just brilliant!

As part of this workshop Denise and Emely presented some guidelines for developing and evaluating nudges for us to use, this was a bit confusing because there seemed to be 2 sets of guidelines given with lots of overlap, but the main issue was that this workshop really needed to be a full day affair, I think. We split into small groups and were tasked with coming up with a problem and a nudge to address the problem. A chap in our group from a cancer organisation in the US came up with an interesting problem, which was how to improve sun exposure during physical activity, because melanoma rates are high in people who spend time being physically active outdoors. Again, cultural differences were really interesting here, because a woman called Vicky was from Newcastle in Australia and had a whole list of ways sun exposure was tackled there. I grew up in Sydney and I have to say I’m astonished at how much things have changed since then! Nowadays kids have big hats as part of their uniform, sunscreen is provided in parks (with little umbrellas to stop the contents degrading!), the list goes on. So she had lots of ideas for how this issue could be addressed. Jan Seghers (who is Flemish) and me had less experience of needing sunscreen to be active outdoors…

We came up with a nudge (getting local youth sports organisations to provide pop up sun shelters and big bottles of sunscreen as part of the team kit), worked out the logistics, who was being nudged (the coach, the organisations, the kids) and added some evaluation ideas. It was an interesting exercise, and we addressed lots of different issues like social norms and how to make sure it was a ‘nudge’ instead of being compulsory. My idea for using social norms was to get the kids to wear zinc cream on their faces in the team colours, on the assumption that kids like face painting, wearing colours on your face is already associated with sports (think cricket players, football fans etc), and that if you were the one kid without green paint on your face you might stand out. I liked this idea!

There was more stuff about nudges in Denise’s keynote later in the conference, so I’ll cover that later. I think it’s such a cool area to work in though, so many possibilities…

The second half of the day was a workshop on prescribing walking for health. We had a stellar lineup for this: Marie Murphy, Paul Kelly, Elaine Murtagh and Catrine Tudor-Locke. What a fantastic bunch of people! They clearly had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for this workshop, and we all had a lot of fun doing the activities, plus we got some incidental sightseeing done down at the waterfront at the same time 🙂

First we had a quick whistlestop tour of research on walking and the health benefits (at least 5000 steps a day to not be ‘The Walking Dead’, the hashtag #BeMoreAmish needs to trend), and some stuff about cadence being important (at least 100 steps per minute for health). Then we set off in pairs to look at measurement stuff. We had a heart rate monitor, a steps app, a pedometer, a stopwatch and some music downloaded to our phones. We looked at different walking speeds and how they could be changed (music was very effective) and their effects on heart rate, the accuracy of pedometers and walking apps, and used the Feeling Scale to change walking speed. It was very interesting but there was nowhere near enough time to cover everything in the activity and ponder the results in depth. It was good though to get a flavour of some of the issues involved in this area, and the walking with music was an interesting concept. Though I wish my bluetooth headphones had talked to my phone because listening to I Gotta Feeling blaring out on my phone whilst striding along made me feel like a total numpty!

The final part of this workshop looked at different walking domains, dimensions and correlates using a paper by Paul Kelly. We were asked to consider which of these would be useful in walking interventions for different groups of people. It was really interesting to think about how different types of people have completely different requirements and preferences, and I think that this ‘Edinburgh Framework’ is an excellent jumping-off point for covering different aspects of walking. Funnily enough, the different walking domains came up as a real issue in the Resolve to Walk study I did. The poster I presented at this conference actually covered the problem of different types of walking and the meanings of this for participants, so this is something which is not just a problem for researchers, but also for participants themselves in terms of what walking is, and the reasons for doing it.

Right, that’s quite enough screen ink for one blog! If you read this far, give yourself a medal! I’m off to explore Vancouver. The walking domains covered will be a combination of active travel and leisure time walking 🙂