This week marks the official start of Spring (astronomical that is) and with longer hours of daylight and hopefully kinder weather what better time to revamp your fitness levels and help shake off the winter blues in the process.

Leading the way in helping boost activity levels on Campus is the Institute of Sport and Exercise, offering almost 50 exercise classes every week for staff, students, alumni and members of the local community as well as a host of facilities including a swimming pool, gym, sports halls, studios and playing fields.

It also runs specialist active living and seniors timetables for those aged 60 and over and those living with a long term condition so the staff there are very aware of the links between activity and health and well-being.

ISE’s latest initiative is a Couch to 5k programme, launched this week, for anyone interested in getting going with running. Aimed at beginners, the nine week programme provides support and encouragement with one instructor led run a week building up to participation in the Botanic Garden 5k run in May.


“The course is aimed at building fitness and confidence through the weeks,” said ISE staff member Hazel Ednie, who as Active Living and Seniors Programme Manager, understands the barriers many people face to getting and staying active.

“It can be difficult to get started and that is what this course aims to help with. It will provide the support to get going. And we also know that if you have a goal you are more likely to stick with exercise.”

Hazel added that there a variety of activity options already in place at the University.

As well as ISE’s exercise timetables and facilities there are Daily Mile walking routes around the main Campus and cycling opportunities including a bike pool where bikes can be hired. 

It is, she said, aimed at building a community and an environment where being active is made easier.

“There are so many benefits to being physical active,” she added. “It can reduce the risk of a number of conditions including Type 2 Diabetes, coronary heart disease and some types of cancer. We want people to be active as a preventative measure. It’s about stacking up the odds against the probability of developing a long term condition.

“But it can also help manage stress, improve mood and quality of sleep. And there are also benefits to mental well-being. The key is to find an activity that you enjoy and that way you are more likely to keep it up. It can feel daunting to begin with but small changes can make a big difference.”

University Finance Director Carol Prokopyszyn agrees.

She began her own activity challenge back in January after hearing a Discovery Day presentation by Professors Annie Anderson and Bob Steele from the Centre for Research into Cancer Prevention and Screening, winners of this year’s Stephen Fry Award for engagement.

Hearing that 45% of cancers are preventable spurred Carol into creating the Stair Challenge for herself and her team in a bid to become more active.

Instead of using the lift Carol, who is based in the Tower Building, opted for the stairs on her way to meetings and covered 64 flights in her first week. Members of her team joined in too and now two months on the challenge is still going strong with stair climbing becoming a healthy habit.

“It has become a thing now,” said Carol. “I take the stairs all the time and there is a team of stair champions who have started regular walks up to the 10th floor.

“I feel much fitter because of it. When you’re unfit going up three sets of stairs can feel like a struggle but now I can be at level eight without really noticing. It’s amazing.”

Now that her fitness levels are improving Carol has set herself a new challenge of getting back into running and has recently joined her husband who is half way through a Couch to 5k programme similar to the one being organised by ISE.

“I joined in at week 4 and it was ok. It was my first run in a long time. I wouldn’t have done that if it hadn’t been for the stair challenge.

“When you haven’t exercised for a while it feels really difficult to get started but it really is about making small changes.”

“If walking up three floors is too many then just do one. If one floor is too many then maybe take the lift up and walk back down. It is just about moving more and making it a habit.”

If a lack of time is the issue to moving more the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network, run by Professors Annie Anderson and Bob Steele, have devised a range of exercises  which can be done while waiting for a kettle to boil. Kettlecise exercises include stretches, squats and leg raises and can all be done in minutes.

As Professor Anderson points out, “As little as ten minutes extra physical activity a day can make a difference.”

The WHO Global recommendations on physical activity for health state that:

  • Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
  • Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls three or more days per week.
  • Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.
  • People of all ages should do strengthening activities involving major muscle groups on two or more days a week.