Scotland’s Step Count Challenge competition, run biannually, encourages staff in workplaces across the country to “ditch the desk to walk the walk”. Launched by walking charity, Paths for All, in 2011, the event has had over 30,000 participants and logged more than 18 billion steps. The initiative challenges teams of up to five members to compete to have the most cumulative steps by the end of the competition, combining competition and teamwork to motivate people to exercise, whilst also having some fun along the way.
This year, the University of St. Andrews has collaborated with the Step Count Challenge and Paths for All, to research the impact that the event has on people’s physical, cognitive, and mental health. PhD student, Sam Warne, will be fronting this research initiative alongside his supervisors Gozde Ozakinci, Senior Lecturer at the School of Medicine and Jamie Ainge, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology and Neuroscience. Sam is a sporting enthusiast and a big golf fan, making St. Andrews the ideal location for him to complete his studies!
The research, which was funded by Paths for All and the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences, will be conducted in a few phases over the next number of Step Count Challenges. It will utilise participants’ reported step-counts to detect any increases in physical activity throughout the competition. Various tools will be used at each stage to test the impact that this challenge, and the increased activity that comes with it, has on mental, physical, and cognitive wellbeing. Gozde, who has previously conducted significant research into the real-world impact of physical activity, believes that this study will be one of the most comprehensive studies conducted to date, which will examine the impact of a workplace challenge. Interestingly, the World Health Organisation only officially recognised improvement in cognitive function as one of the benefits of physical activity in November 2020. This research will be the first to examine this benefit in the context of the Step Count Challenge.
Staff at the University of St. Andrews are keen to support Sam in conducting his research, and many staff members across departments have registered to take part in this year’s event, with nearly 40 teams already signed up from the university alone. The Medical Admissions team at the School of Medicine are excited to get going with the Step Count Challenge. Team member Pamela Dobson, who has taken part in the event before, describes it as a fantastic team-building opportunity. Working remotely can create challenges for team-bonding and development, particularly for newer colleagues who may not have met other staff in person. Pamela says that participation in the event gives her an outlet to get away from the computer and the opportunity to talk to colleagues about something other than work while benefitting from fresh air and physical exercise. She laughs that in previous, the event has got pretty competitive in the office, and she is looking forward to some friendly competition again this year.
For more information about the research, check out the recent blog post by Sam and the Step Count Challenge team!