Georgia Clay: Health-Enhancing Physical Activity

During 2021, HART researcher, PhD student, and Associate Lecturer, Georgia Clay, attended the Health Enhancing Physical Activity (HEPA) three-day summer school entitled ‘An Ecosystem Approach to Health Enhancing Physical Activity Promotion’ hosted by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the Université Côte D’Azur, the GDR Sport & Activity Physique CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), and Queen’s University Belfast. Georgia reflected on her experiences below.

As the aims of the summer school included improving skills for developing and evaluating physical activity promoting policies, I felt it would be very relevant for the first study of my PhD. Although I had some understanding about what a systems-based approach was prior to attending, it was interesting to learn more about ‘systems thinking and complexity science’, to see how such concepts can be useful for considering within policy development, and for understanding the challenges faced in doing so.

The first session began by highlighting some of the considerations towards how physical activity is defined. This demonstrated how my early considerations around the intricacy of what physical activity is or includes is still a key debate. Later, the presentations the speakers gave about their work with systems-based approaches emphasised the multifaceted nature of physical activity policy and implementation. At the end of the week, we were asked to consider and present strategies to adjust a model in which a multitude of factors were interconnected with physical activity to enhance participation overall.

Not only did the summer school provide a learning experience from a content perspective, but it also allowed opportunities to learn from a range of academics, expanding my knowledge about experts in this field. As the focus of the three days was around physical activity overall, all attendees shared the same interests and passion for the topic and therefore was a great networking experience with other students and early career researchers. One of my favourite non-academic elements of the school was the active breaks held during the day; here videos were played from previous WHO Europe events which included some up-beat dance-based activities, and more slow and relaxing movement to help break up sitting periods and fatigue. To me this reinforces from a personal perspective the reason why we were attending the sessions; to learn more about opportunities for promoting activity in a range of contexts.

Overall, I am very grateful for the opportunity to engage with this event and to learn more about systems approaches to physical activity health promotion. Whilst the systems-based approach and complexity science may not be the guiding concepts underpinning my PhD, it has provided me with some useful resources and ideas which have strong ties to the underpinning assumptions about some key factors involved in my own research on stroke-related physical activity policy, guidance and implementation.

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