“Time seemed to slow down on the walk…”

“… I felt like I could breath (sic) a little more.”

These are some of the experiences reported by people who have taken part in a research project called The MindWalk Challenge. In this wellbeing study, participants were asked to participate in an independent 12 minute outdoor walking activity at a location and time of their choosing, and we compared their mood before and after this.

Designing a Covid-proof well-being intervention study has been just one of the interesting research challenges the pandemic has thrown up over the last 18 months. Pivoting from a more traditional hands-on and controlled approach to conducting a study ‘in-the-wild’ has been somewhat nerve-wrecking from the researchers perspective – a bit like going from having both hands firmly clasped around the handle-bars to being totally hands-free when cycling!

So instead of researchers meeting participants at pre-set times and locations, then instructing and overseeing the execution of the participant activity during the study, we had to trust participants to effectively run themselves whenever and wherever they wish to do so. To prevent data loss, we also had to impress upon participants the importance of remembering to complete their post-walk log online, without which we would have no data, and no real means to retrieve this since participants were anonymous.

Designing a study that practically runs itself from start to finish requires a fair bit of extra preparation up front before launching the study. Here the team worked hard to produce clear, succinct and bullet-proof instructions using text and video via our research website. This was our main way of facilitating participation in the study, so it was important to reduce site website bounce rates. We also created a study mascot, ‘MaxWell the MindWalk tortoise’ (pictured here) who featured throughout our study materials and social media posts, as part of our study branding.

Once the study was up and running, getting the word out was another key part of the project to ensure successful participant recruitment. Here the team worked tirelessly to connect with potential participants digitally due to lockdown restrictions. The use of various social networking sites and groups as well as partnering with local include healthcare, pharmaceutical and business/charitable organisations has been helpful to get the word out to diverse members of the community. The response has been incredibly positive with individuals from different roles interested in learning about our wellbeing research. Despite the challenges of recruiting in a pandemic, this has forged new relationships and corporate connections with external partners who are interested in well-being research.

An intra team benefit from running our study in a covid-secure manner was the use of online meetings. This increased flexibility of not needing to travel to campus helped with arranging online meetings to fit around other commitments, so we were able to meet regularly and also even more spontaneously to discuss any important issues as they arose. Nevertheless, it has felt quite different from normal times where the whole team would be in same room having a discussion. So while I do feel that I know my team fairly well and am familiar with their 2D head and neck appearances over Teams, never having met each other in the flesh, I realise that I might not recognize them from afar in real life despite having worked together closely for the better part of a year.

As the summer progresses the MindWalk study is still currently open, and we welcome yet more participants. Do take advantage of the glorious summer weather by going out into the great outdoors and taking some time for yourself to do the MindWalk Challenge!

We leave you with some more comments from the MindWalkers from our study, as we extend the MindWalk challenge to you, wherever you are …

“…interesting to see how the walking [activity, in this study] can effect (sic) your mindset so much” 

“…different to other walks I usually take.”

“The more I do it the better I feel”

To find out more information, discover our social media pages or sign up, check out the MindWalk website.

Dr Aileen Ho is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology. This article was written with input from her MSc student team – Kate Raison, Laura Winlow, Louise Hoar and Luke Hyde.