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 ( & Wikimedia Sverige ( [CC 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 🙂

23things, networking, posters, research, Uncategorized, writing

1 out of 12 ain’t bad


More East Sussex views

I appear to have 12 draft blogs sitting in WordPress at various stages of completion, I’ve been busy writing them sometimes but apparently not actually hitting publish! Must do better…

Anyway, I have also been busy writing stuff for my PhD, including two writing retreats. One retreat was very isolated and full of running, napping and walking. I took myself off to a campsite in East Sussex in mid-May and had a lovely time writing and running during the day and then walking to the pub for dinner and a pint or two, chatting to the cute lambs in the field en route. It was sheer bliss. I fell asleep to the sound of owls, slept for at least 10 hours every night, and the campsite chickens came and tried to nick my food. I had some beautiful runs in the countryside, through beech woods and fields, and I didn’t even get very lost! I would love to do this again sometime, it was very productive and I mostly finished planning a paper I’m wanting to write. It was also very calming to escape from the chaos of everyday life.


Beech woods

East Sussex views

The second writing retreat was last weekend and organised by the lovely RDP people at uni. We set goals, wrote for 2 days between 10 and about 4, lunch was provided and dinner on the Saturday night (dinner was delicious and it was great to meet people I’d never otherwise encounter). I did a short run round campus both days to shake the day off and to stay awake on the second day. I planned out my methodology chapter and filled in lots of gaps for my 2 studies so far. It was good to be able to focus on the bigger picture of my PhD, especially as I’m up to my eyeballs in data collection and analysis (the latter being apparently never-ending…) Now the challenge is to keep moving forward on daily writing, so far this has been happening most days unless I’ve had to travel to see participants.

I’ve been feeling very inspired recently, as I’m interviewing participants from my New Year’s resolution study, and getting feedback from them and hearing how they’ve progressed through the last 6 months has been a real privilege. When you’re bogged down in endless data it’s good to remember why I’m doing this: to understand how we can help people become more active (and stay more active).

I’ve also written an abstract for a conference on something a bit random but interesting, and registered for another conference which will need another abstract in August. Gulp, that’s actually quite soon…I haven’t been to many academic events this year, with the exception of a day at a health psychology network, where I presented a poster on initial findings from my resolution study and enjoyed chatting to other PhD students from different universities. Sometimes signing up for these things provides the motivation to prioritise writing, to see what findings you have which are of theoretical or practical benefit, and to get some analyses finished to have something to present. Plus I absolutely love conferences and seminars where you can chat to people and gain different perspectives on your work (particularly as I’m the only person in my department working on physical activity: it gets lonely sometimes!)

I just signed up for another 23 Things online course: 23 Things for Publication, which I’m hoping will be as useful as the previous 23 Things. I have a plan for a paper, but I’ve got a bit stuck on background theory (I think there’s a hole in there somewhere which I need to track down), and knowing where to start with it all has meant it’s been on the back burner for a few months. So somewhere in here I need to juggle writing this paper along with everything else…I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the other participants (even if only virtually) and us all celebrating some progress together! Because cute as they are, lambs aren’t quite as good at being writing companions as people…


Cute lambs


23things, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Catching my breath

Nowhere near any sort of finish line, but encouragement is good, right?
Nowhere near any sort of finish line, but encouragement is good, right?

Phew, it’s been a busy old time recently, and I’ve struggled to fit in the time to do much PhD work, let alone write a blog. Finishing off 23 Things was good, because I had a deadline for that. We had a really nice get-together facilitated by the lovely Research Development Programme people, and I met lots of other uni peeps doing the 23 Things, some of whom I’d only encountered online before that. We agreed that making it more sociable from the beginning would be useful, if only to share tips and tricks and to create more of a sense of community. I read quite a few of the other blogs, but couldn’t work out when people had updated them. Emily James suggested using Feedly, which I intend to check out. I use the WordPress Reader but it’s a bit clunky and relies on actually opening WordPress…I also managed to find a few more victims, sorry I mean willing volunteers, interested in signing up for Bright Club (hooray!) It’s good to know people outside your department, universities become much more friendly places when the circle of people you know there expands beyond the narrow confines of the people you normally meet on campus doing a PhD.

First up though was our first Running Dialogues seminar. We had a small hiccup at the final hour as our venue was unable to open in time for the start, but luckily they shifted us across the road to a pub. This wasn’t ideal as it was quite cramped, the acoustics were a bit iffy in the first place, and you could hear buses going past! However, we managed to overcome these obstacles and have a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating few hours of talk about running research. Our speakers were uniformly fantastic, with an amazing diversity in the subjects covered even in one ‘topic’ (running and society). I’m not covering everything here, as our website gives details and a blog by someone who attended. Plus after live-tweeting the event, my brain refuses to process anything more to do with the subject right now! Live-tweeting was excellent for listening to the speakers, reading the slides, coming up with some of the essential points they were trying to make, and then trying to communicate these to a wider audience, who might not even have been present. All within the Twitter character limit and remembering as many hashtags as possible. And trying to spot any unfortunate autocorrections before they were tweeted to the world (there were a few near misses!). Mark Carrigan linked to an excellent blog on the topic which is well worth reading if you want a few tips on how to do it, or improve how you do it, I have a feeling it’s something of an art! I also had to introduce the speakers briefly and then facilitate the discussion section at the end, which was good fun but difficult when your brain is struggling to work correctly after being bombarded by all that live-tweeting. All excellent experience though, and I enjoyed it as the whole thing was quite informal and friendly.

Next up was our department conference. These last few weeks have involved industrial quantities of finger food 🙂 Our department conference is great because you get to meet people who you might never meet despite being in the next-door office, either because they aren’t often on campus, or they are in a different cohort so your paths haven’t crossed. And the breadth of research is fascinating, from the neuroscience of imagined movements to qualitative experiences of people suffering from leg ulcers to everything in between. I was looking forward to doing my talk, but when I lost my thread a bit halfway through I was suddenly overcome by nerves, which I wasn’t expecting at all (though apparently nobody noticed, this was what I was telling myself the whole way through…)

I think the moral of that story is to practise the talk a few more times, as I hadn’t had much of a chance to go through and memorise the whole thing. Also, I realised that although I’ve done a few talks before, I actually haven’t been able to use a Powerpoint (kind of the opposite of most academic speaking then!) and it’s a different skill to time your talk to go alongside the images. And the other thing I realised is that my other talks have been more interactive, particularly the Cafe Scientifique ones, and in a funny way those were easier than standing up and talking alone. Perhaps that’s a clue that I should try to make all my talks a bit more interactive? I do love a bit of audience participation! Anyway, definitely more practice needed, I think. The questions section was really fun though, lots of interesting questions and ideas from my colleagues.

Then I had to knuckle down to producing a poster for the uni conference. I’ve covered posters a few times before in my blog, so I won’t bore you with details. But blimey, I felt like I’d never done one before! I had to use a portrait format, whereas my previous attempt was landscape, which involved a whole new thought process trying to work out how to make it easy to read and to look at using a different orientation. It took me aaaaaages! I did use a few ideas I gleaned from the uni training session, along with the Better Posters website, and the end result was pretty good, I think. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and a few people gave me useful feedback so I can improve on it for the next conference I’m doing. I decided to focus on just one tiny section of the qualitative part of my Running Commentary study, and I picked out a theme which has been covered in the previous literature and which really leapt out at me in lots of the groups I visited. After I’ve done the next poster I’ll go through this in a blog post, this one is already loads too long!

The uni conference itself was good fun, there were talks on every topic under the sun and most of the speakers were excellent. I enjoyed talking to people about my poster, and asking other people about theirs as well. I realised after fielding questions on both poster and talk that the thing which people do most is try to apply your findings to their own lives in order to make sense of them. So even though my study was on beginner runners, more experienced runners wanted to see how my findings fit in with their own history and experience. If they weren’t runners themselves then they wanted to tell me about their friends or family members who were runners and what they knew about their experiences, it was fascinating. I also find that people ask me for advice on their running (which is hilarious as I’m certainly no expert), and I often end up discussing different races and local running routes. People who run just LOVE to talk about it! I even had the vice chancellor of the uni stop and chat to me about running (he does it for relaxation apparently). Later on we had Ben Goldacre speaking about scientific misconduct, he was a fabulous, fabulous speaker and should be an example to any would-be communicator of research.

This week has involved helping out in tutorials, I do love talking to undergrads. In between times I’m still trying to tackle my gigantic mountain of transcriptions, catching up on admin for my various studies, reading some useful new papers which have just come out on my research area and working out where they fit into the jigsaw puzzle, trying to come up with solutions to logistical problems in a new study I’m planning, finalising details for our next Running Dialogues seminar, cheering on friends at the London Marathon and fitting in a lovely run along the river. My supervisor thinks that some of the stuff in my talk might be suitable for a paper, so I’m feeling quite inspired about that, it still needs a huge amount of work before it can get to that stage, but I can already see how one small part of one study can have practical implications for understanding how people feel during exercise and how we can help improve this, which is after all the goal of my research. Bring it on!

networking, research

Walking for wellbeing


A couple of weeks ago I attended a workshop about ‘walking for wellbeing’ in Glasgow.  It was run by the Scottish Insight Institute, who promote collaboration and engagement between researchers and other sectors, such as public, business and third sector, there is a bit more information about the organisation here:

I found out about the workshop via some of the academics I follow on Twitter, and immediately knew that the second workshop in the series would be very useful for my research, as it focussed on measurement of walking and walking and affect. Incredibly relevant to my PhD! So I booked a flight to Glasgow for the day and got up at the ludicrously early hour of 4am, yawn.

There was a great mix of people from different organisations present, all with an interest in either walking, wellbeing, or both walking and wellbeing. I didn’t have a chance to talk to everyone there, but there were people from NHS organisations, other researchers in physical activity, people involved in green spaces and planning, those coordinating different types of walking groups, and people from different charities such as Arthritis Care.

One unique aspect of this workshop was that sedentariness was discouraged! Everyone was asked to give a standing ovation to all the speakers, before and after their talks. Group discussions were carried out whilst standing. Activities involving walking were also woven into the day, which was a real bonus in avoiding that post-lunch sleepy slump usually experienced at such events (particularly when you had to get up at 4am). ALL events should use this format; as well as being energising it was also great for being able to chat to a variety of people you didn’t otherwise manage to meet.

The day started off with some discussion around what walking for wellbeing actually meant, and everyone had a slightly different take on definitions of both concepts, depending on their background.  There were lots of common themes, however, such as walking for health and happiness, social aspects of walking, pleasant environments, enjoyment and purpose.

Next up, David Rowe talked about how and why we measure walking.  This was basically an extended ‘it depends’ discussion, because it very much depends who the walker is and why they are being studied.

Reasons for measuring walking ranged from the individual (for example, challenging yourself to complete a certain number of steps per day) to group or population-related motives (e.g. urban planning, transport, monitoring outcomes of interventions).

For the ‘how’ of walking measurement, pros and cons of different methods were discussed.  I found this fascinating, because I’ve seen from talking to my participants that using self-report questionnaires for measuring physical activity is problematic (though I’m stuck with this method for my first study). With walking being integrated into daily life to a greater extent than more structured forms of exercise, accurate measurement is even more of an issue.

Some of the methods David touched on were attendance records, diaries, questionnaires, pedometers, accelerometers, mobile apps and pedestrian counts. Again, which method is preferred depends on who is being studied and why (and how much you’re willing to spend!) For example, studying an elderly housebound population would be difficult using a GPS method because this relies on outdoor activity, whereas pedometers could also be problematic if they don’t register very small numbers of steps, or a shuffling gait.

Even when you have chosen what seems to be a suitable measurement method, David has done some extensive work showing large differences between different models of the same measurement device.  That’s before you contend with individual differences, or considerations such as weather/season/day of week.  As always with measurement, the key is to pick the best possible tool which will answer your question as well as it possibly can, whilst acknowledging the limitations of that tool.

As a postscript to this part of the day, I recently found a really useful looking toolkit online from the Medical Research Council, discussing different ways of measuring physical activity. There is a handy discussion of the pros and cons of several different methods and further references are given

The activity for this part of the day was a walk round the block wearing a pedometer. The hills in that part of Glasgow are pretty steep! We then had to estimate how many steps we had taken and how far we had walked, as a way of illustrating some of the problems inherent in measuring walking. My step count was wayyyyyy off but I guessed the distance quite accurately (comes from running with a running watch so often I think). I wasn’t alone in having no idea of how many steps we had taken, with estimates varying wildly across the group. David also did a quick and dirty analysis of the results and showed us that even though we had all walked the same route, there were big differences in the number of steps counted by the pedometer, showing the importance of measuring distance rather than number of steps (which can be converted).

Refreshed by our quick walk (honestly, I am a big fan of this ‘netwalking’!), we then turned to Paddy Ekkekakis’s talk. Paddy is an expert in the area of affect and physical activity, and his 2011 review paper of the research in this area was invaluable to me when I first became interested in the subject of how we can help people enjoy physical activity more. He was also an excellent speaker-very engaging and clear.  He started off with some alarming statistics on how many people actually meet the recommended 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity exercise 5 times a week in different countries. US: 3.5%, Canada: 4.8%, UK: 6% for men, 4% for women. He made the argument that physical activity is associated for many with displeasure, not helped by media portrayals of exercise in a negative light and self-help books promising weight loss without exercise.

Next was a whistlestop tour through definitions of affective constructs-core affect, emotions and moods-and some important distinctions between these if you are to measure the thing you think you are measuring. Core affect is the most basic common element; a generalised, free-floating part of conscious awareness, which underpins emotions and moods. Emotions are short-term affective states requiring a cognitive appraisal of a stimulus, with other components including attention, behavioural expressions and physiological changes. Moods also require a cognitive appraisal, however this may be of something less specific or obvious (for example something which happened a while ago, or something general like concern for the future), which is in keeping with the longer-term, usually less intense nature of moods compared with emotions.

Why are these definitions important? Well, if you are going to measure an aspect of ‘wellbeing’, then you need to know just which aspect you are measuring, as well as choosing an appropriate measurement tool. Ekkekakis gave examples of studies where a measure had been used ‘because that’s what everyone else uses’ or ‘because so-and-so used it and said it was ok’ (I’m paraphrasing here). Often, however, the measure was ill-chosen in light of what the research question was. For example, if you are using a short-term intervention such as a walk in a forest, then it makes little sense to measure ‘mood’ before and after the walk, because moods can last for days. Ekkekakis also touched on the history of some affective measures and how this may affect their suitability for use in physical activity. One example used, the POMS (now called the Profile of Mood States) started out as the Psychiatric Outpatient Mood Scale, used to study a drug treatment. You can see the origins of this in the rather Eeyorish categories used in the scale: tension, depression, anger, vigour, fatigue, and confusion. Other measures of affect were also discussed, along with consideration of ‘activation’, since many measures ignore low activation or arousal states such as relaxation or serenity (surely important in walking for wellbeing?)

The take-home message from this part of the talk was: choose your measurement tool wisely and justify why you are using it. Or, more memorably: don’t be a sheep! This is similar to David Rowe’s take-home message: it depends. Inform yourself about what you want to measure and some of the different methods of measuring it, choose the best one for your question and justify your choice.

After this, we were able to use an affective measure in anger (no pun intended) as we were off for another netwalking opportunity and had to use the Feeling Scale and Felt Arousal Scale to rate how we felt before and after the walk. It was interesting using the Feeling Scale myself, as this is the measure I’m currently using with my participants during exercise. Given my participants are running around parks and roads whilst I ask them how they are feeling during the exercise session, a very quick and easy verbal method is obviously required. Not much time for long-winded paper-based questionnaires or even complicated verbally-administered ones. I’m also asking them to briefly describe why they are feeling that way, as there has been little exploratory work like this outside the lab and I’d like to find out what reasons people ascribe to their feelings in a more natural environment. I’m also asking people when they first begin with a running group and about 2 months later, as I want to know whether the way people feel during exercise changes with experience. It’s early days in the study so far, but so far it has been fascinating going back to visit participants and seeing how much they have changed.

Back to the workshop, and for this part Ekkekakis presented a huge amount of information on the relationship between physical activity and affect.  This blog is already turning into a tome, so I’ll summarise the key points quickly! There is evidence to show that how people feel during physical activity is related to their subsequent physical activity levels; the more pleasant people find physical activity, the more likely they are to continue doing it. I know, it’s rocket science this stuff isn’t it? Intensity of physical activity is important, however, because people generally tend to find high intensity physical activity unpleasant, which means if you expect people to take up vigorous exercise then they are less likely to continue with it. This is one reason why walking is such an ideal form of physical activity, as it sidesteps the ‘no pain, no gain’ ethos so prevalent in media and cultural messages.  In search of a quick fix to obtain fast results, the message about physical activity needing to be pleasant is lost, to the detriment of people making long term changes in their physical activity levels.  Additionally, if people are very overweight or very unfit, the intensity level at which physical activity becomes unpleasant can be very low indeed. This is an  even stronger argument for starting such people off at a low intensity level to maximise pleasure.

Ekkekakis included loads more information, but each of his slides alone could justify an entire blog entry, so I’ll leave it there.  There was a question and answer session at the end of the day, and there was a huge variety of questions reflecting the varied backgrounds of the workshop attendees.  I think the best part of meeting people from different backgrounds was seeing how research is useful to so many people in slightly different ways. Some people were in need of information on how to select a suitable tool for measuring physical activity, some people were more interested in the wellbeing part of the workshop and understanding how physical activity and affect are related. I’m sure, however, that everyone left the workshop informed and inspired. I certainly did! Thanks very much to Nanette and the others involved in organising.



(Photo is of the fantastic lion in George Square, from Flickr (Damingo@Glasgow) under CC licence