6 tips to make your festival experience fantastic!

With only a couple of days to go until the much awaited 16th Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, we asked our festival goers (staff and students) at the University of the Highlands and Islands to share their advice and tips.

This fantastic family friendly festival event brings together music lovers young and old. It runs this year Thursday 1 August to Saturday 3 August, on Belladrum Estate, by Beauly in the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

So, whether you are playing at it, attending or working at the festival for the first or umpteenth time…how do you make sure it is an unforgettable, safe and an enjoyable experience?

    1. Plan to be spontaneous – it’s great to anticipate and plan what bands you are going to see – but equally the festival is a great forum to widen your musical horizons, discover new acts you may never have heard of before and for free.  For example at the recent Hebcelt festival I was thrilled to discover and dance to Awkward Family Portraits!
      Anna-Wendy Stevenson, Programme Leader, BA Applied Music
    2. Going camping? Here is my five must takes!
      1) a small torch for finding your tent at night, even though there is festival lighting it’s not always easy in a sea of tents – make sure you can recognise your tent clearly too.
      2) take a refillable water bottle/container – there’s free water on tap.
      3) dry shampoo – a saviour for anyone with longer hair.
      4) extra layers – whilst it may be warm during the day the temperature can be really chilly at night.
      a bag to take all your recycling home…keep our beautiful Bella clean.
      Jessica Taylor, Digital Marketing Officer and Proud Ness Chair 
    3. Manual handlingIf you’re performing and playing a large instrument, invest in a good barrow with a fat tyre and some bungee cords as you’ll probably have to lug it four miles from the car park to the stage.
      If you’re offered a performers/production car park pass, take it as you can get in closer to drop off, as these car parks are usually right behind the stages. Or, if all else fails, you just need to make sure you have some fit and healthy friends to take turns.
      Alison Lochhead, Communications Manager and parent roadie
    4. Keeping charged – think about getting an external phone battery so that you can re-fuel your device without having to plug it in. USB battery chargers are easy to find and affordable. It’s useful in case you lose your pals in the crowd, plus we all love to capture photos, videos and share the best bits! @ThinkUHI
      Katie Masheter, Curriculum Development Employer Engagement Officer
    5. Hearing care – remember to bring ear protection for young children. There are many loud noises that can damage the little people’s hearing. Ear plugs for sleeping could be a winner too!
      DJ MacIntyre, Gaelic officer and bagpipe player
    6. Personal care – be sure to pack a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, with a bottle of water ready. Wet wipes are perfect for personal hygiene in case the ques to showers are far too long!  Keep fresh, and keep clean! 😊
      Take some healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up – pack fruits like bananas, and snacks like nuts that will ensure you are dancing all day and night long without running out of energy.
      Bumbags for safety – Keep your cash, phones and cards safe by using a one. By keeping your belongings close to you it reduces the chance of dropping or theft.
      Emma Robson, HISA Activities and Events Regional Co-ordinator

Check out the official website to for all the latest festival details and specific FAQs.official_bella_n

The University of the Highlands and Islands will be attending the Tartan Heart Belladrum festival 

Plan your personal programme!
Join our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths students and staff in the Science Tent and take part in some fantastic scientific experiments. From making a fruit piano to having a go on a smoothie bike there is plenty to get involved in!

Do you know your axon from your elbow? If so, come and join in with our Science pub quiz on Saturday from 7pm to 8pm. Hosted by researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands, with topics ranging from high school science to the latest news. There will also be a special children’s round so everyone can join in! Come and test your science skills with a prize for the winning team!

Why not attend a Women in Technology session featuring Dr Antonia Pritchard
[read her recent blog on sun care]AP

Listen to our current and past students perform at various stages over the three days.

Not sure what university life is like? Ask our students what their learning journey at the university. Representatives from the Highland and Islands Students’ Association will be at the event.

Future Me, our careers and employability team have secured some fantastic work experience placements. Our students will work with Belladrum’s production team – helping to make the magic happen. Roles include event project management, production, press office and artist liaison.   Watch out for their personal stories on social media @ThinkUHI as they get back stage, meet the artists, connect with like-minded people and have an experience that won’t be forgotten

It could be you performing or working at an event next year?
Set your course for the future. Visit our website to explore our courses all across the Highlands and Islands. Our courses take you from where you are today, to where you want to be in the future.

Find out more about future work experience opportunities or how to advertise your own vacancy.

#ThinkUHI #bellafamily #Bella2019


Melanoma: more than a touch of sun

With the summer season approaching, Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Sharon Hutchison from our School of Health Social Care and Life Sciences provide insights into melanoma, protecting yourself in the sun and the research they are undertaking at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Did you know:

• Melanoma is Scotland’s sixth most common cancer?
• Not all melanoma is caused by exposure to the sun/ultraviolet radiation?
• Your immune system is capable of killing cancer cells?

awhitephoto_UHI case study_Antonia Pritchard-106
Dr Antonia Pritchard

As the holiday season approaches, it is a timely opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to our new Northern Scottish community and home. We have recently set up a melanoma research group at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, thanks to funding support from Highland and Island Enterprise.

So – what is melanoma?

It is a type of cancer that arises from the melanocyte cell which produces pigment (colour) in your body.

The type of melanoma you have likely heard most about appears on the skin. It is often identified by changes to the skin such as the appearance of a new mole or a transformation in an existing mole that progressively changes in shape, size and/or colour. This type of melanoma occurs after exposure of skin to too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

CaptureIn the UK, almost 9 in 10 cases of melanoma could be prevented by using high factor sunscreen, limiting the time you are exposed to ultraviolet radiation, including sunbeds, and covering up your skin when in the sun. An important thing to remember during your summer holiday! If you see any changes on your skin or your moles, please visit your GP who will examine it. This is a quick and easy thing to do and the earlier a melanoma is detected, the more likely it will be cured, so it is good to be cautious.

But – did you know that melanoma does not only appear on the skin?

Melanoma can develop in the eye (known as uveal melanoma), under the fingernails or on the palms of hands/soles of feet (known as acral melanoma) or from an internal mucosal surface, such as gums, nose or rectum (known as mucosal melanoma). These rare types of melanoma are not usually influenced by ultraviolet radiation in the same way as skin melanoma and are often detected at a more advanced stage due to their locations.

Unfortunately, once melanoma has spread, it is one of the hardest cancers to cure.
That is what we are researching to change.

metastatic melanomaThe immune system is capable of specifically recognising cancer cells as being ‘foreign’ to the body, in a way that is similar to how it recognises viruses and bacteria as not belonging there. But, once a cancer has developed, it has managed to evade the immune defences. In our lab we are trying to find ways to re-stimulate the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. Ultimately, we want to be able to identify new immune targets for treatment of melanoma.

We are excited to be able to bring our work to the university and the local community and to be part of the teams continuing to put the Highlands on the map as a place to perform life changing medical research.

Can you help with our research? Absolutely! If you have been diagnosed with any type of melanoma at any time, we have a project you are eligible to join, so please get in touch (melanoma.research@uhi.ac.uk). You can also spread the word that we are researching melanoma at the university and that lots of different types of medical research is happening in Inverness – we love to talk about our work!

Dr Sharon Hutchison

Want more information? We recommend the melanoma patient support network Melanoma UK (www.melanomauk.org.uk) and the NHS information pages contain a lot of important material about all types of melanoma.

Finally, the university’s Institute of Health Research and Innovation has a dedicated Twitter account to keep everyone up-to-date on all our new and exciting medical health research (@IoHRI_UHI).

Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Sharon Hutchison
University of the Highlands and Islands



Why celebrate International Women’s Day?

Observed annually every 8th March, International Women’s Day is held as a worldwide day of celebration, protest and, in some countries, as a national holiday.  Last year saw the first University of the Highlands and Islands wide event to mark International Women’s Day.  The event was fully booked within 24 hours.

Women's Day, UHI
Alex Walker and Deborah Halliday

Why was there was such an appetite for the event? To quote the International Women’s campaign “we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.”  This year’s International Women’s Day global theme is #BalanceforBetter. In a time where the spotlight is rightly being shone on the gender inequalities across society, the workplace and in education, International Women’s Day provides our university, like others, with the opportunity to highlight what we are doing to tackle gender inequalities in education for colleagues working in research, professional services and in learning and teaching.  International Women’s Day also provides us the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the university.

It’s been a busy year since International Women’s Day 2018 with a ripple of change that has come from the event taking place. A ripple that we hope will continue to gain momentum! Our keynote speaker was Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal for Widening Participation and Community at Edinburgh Napier University. Sandra explored why Women’s Networks are needed in further and higher education.

From those conversations, we have now established our own university Women’s IWD3Network and were fortunate to have international scholar and activist Professor Antonia Darder open the inaugural network meeting in July. The network meets quarterly to explore how we can better promote gender equality at the university, but also to hear from inspirational speakers and to take stock of the great work that is already being done to support equality across the university.

This includes initiatives such as the Athena SWAN Charter, which evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network, to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics. In 2015 the Charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. Dr Mary Doherty, Senior Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Researcher Development, spoke at International Women’s Day 2018 around the work she led that resulted in the university successfully achieving  an Athena Swan Bronze Award in 2016.  Since Athena Swan Bronze Award 2018 the working group, which is chaired by Mary, has expanded to include professional services staff and is working towards both renewal of our accreditation and the submission of individual department awards.

Our first Athena Swan Bronze Award event also highlighted the need to have development opportunities in place to support women to enhance their leadership skills. Since the 2018 event, the university mentoring scheme has been further developed to offer a range of mentoring opportunities which can benefit our women colleagues and help them develop their research and leadership skills. The university has also funded ten colleagues who identify as women to take part in the Advance HE Aurora Leadership Programme.

8 and 9 Rhea_Kay
Rhea Kay, University of the Highlands and Islands Higher Education Student of the Year 2018

International Women’s Day also provides the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women!  The University of the Highlands and Islands is a dispersed university, with 13 academic partners located throughout the Highlands and Islands region. International Women’s Day provides a forum for the university to bring together colleagues across the network to celebrate and share the many great achievements of those who identify as women.

In 2018 we heard from women in senior roles, including Fiona McLean, Vice-Chair of Court for the University and Chair of the Equality and Diversity in Governance Working

UHI Learning and Teaching Conference, Inverness Campus, June 19t
Dr Sue Engstrand

Group, who opened the programme for the day. Fiona has been a great supporter in promoting equality at the university and is currently providing support to those on the Aurora leadership programme as a mentor and role model. This year, our International Women’s Day event was opened by Dr Sue Engstrand, Interim Dean of our faculty of science, health and engineering. Sue is a mentor, Auroran alumni and inspiration to those she mentors, supports and leads. It’s this commitment to empowering others and passion for equality that inspires change! We also heard two inspirational stories from our staff and student presenters and invited participants to celebrate someone who identifies as a woman that inspires them.


Should we only be celebrating the achievements of women on one day of the year? No, we should celebrating the achievements of women every day. Should we use 8th March to bring together some of those inspirational women together in celebration? Yes we should!

Alex Walker

Professional Recognition and Development Coordinator and International Women’s Day organiser for the University of the Highlands and Islands


Medieval Scotland on film – Outlaw King and the historical past

With the new Netflix film Outlaw King released this month, Dr Iain MacInnes of the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History considers the historical accuracy of Medieval Scotland on film.

NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015This month sees the release of the much-anticipated Netflix original film, Outlaw King. Directed by David Mackenzie and starring Hollywood’s Chris Pine, more usually found in blockbuster franchises like Star Trek and Wonder Woman, Outlaw King is one of a number of medieval historical dramas soon to make their way to our screens.

But, just as the trailer for the upcoming Mary Queen of Scots film prompted criticism across social media for apparent historical inaccuracy after it appeared to show Mary and Elizabeth meeting face to face (an event most historians agree never took place), so too will Outlaw King find itself under similar scrutiny.

Mackenzie has an ace up his sleeve, however. His narrative story of the life and career of King Robert I (Robert ‘the Bruce’) will be drawn in large part from a medieval source: John Barbour’s late-fourteenth-century epic poem, The Bruce. Surely this will enable Outlaw King to sidestep accusations of manipulating historical events for dramatic impact?

Just because a source is medieval, though, doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. Even medieval writers were less concerned about historical accuracy than they were with a good story which casts their protagonists in the best light. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart famously trumpeted its historical credentials as it too was based on a medieval source text, Blind Harry’s Wallace. But, writing 150 years after the events he described, Harry had a tendency to fill in the gaps of his historical knowledge with a good dollop of artistic license. The Wallace was also written with a very particular audience and political outlook in mind. Outlaw King faces similar issues with Barbour’s Bruce.NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015

The best-known and most-detailed account of the period, The Bruce, was written in the 1370s, several decades after the events it described. Barbour wrote that “truthfulness […] reveals things just as they were, [for] true events that are pleasing are entertaining to the hearer.” But, despite this noble sentiment, historical veracity was not his main concern. Barbour was writing a history of the events of the Wars of Independence knowing what his intended audience wanted to hear. Written at the court of the new Stewart dynasty (descendants of Robert I through his daughter), Barbour had an incentive to depict the king’s forebear in a particularly positive light.

More than this, Barbour was basing his work on a foundation of history writing that had been consciously developed by Robert I and his administration which stressed the importance of the king to Scotland’s independence. Without Bruce, so the story would go, there would be no Scotland. The king and the kingdom’s independence were indelibly linked.

Furthermore, war with England was depicted as a noble and heroic enterprise, an important message in a period when war had been in abeyance. Barbour’s Bruce, then, was very deliberately intended to speak to a late fourteenth-century audience and to inspire feelings of antagonism against the neighbours to the south. Given the recent post-Brexit reinvigoration of the Scottish Independence debate, you can’t help but wonder if – in some quarters, at least – Outlaw King will fulfil a similar role.

Row of Antique BooksThe Bruce is also, of course, a cracking good read. It focuses on those episodes that were of greatest interest to those at the time and which still capture the imagination today – skirmishes, sieges, the rags to riches story of the king and, ultimately, the Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314.

Such a narrative focuses on the king himself and on those who supported him. But it also carefully excises those who opposed Bruce and indeed the whole question of an alternative Scottish royal dynasty. That Robert I singularly failed to heal the rifts within the kingdom that he had himself created was borne out by the fact that civil war recommenced in Scotland barely three years after his death and war with England followed thereafter. But Barbour did not tell that story – nor was his audience particularly keen on hearing it.

The problem with The Bruce is that its tales of daring-do are often taken more popularly as “fact.” This is in part because Barbour’s narrative often appears authoritative: there is sometimes little evidence to contradict it and it is just so deceptively convincing.

When we think of “historical accuracy” as it is represented in Outlaw King, therefore, we have to remember that the source it is based on is itself not historically accurate. Whether modern or medieval, texts like The Bruce and Outlaw King are merely facsimiles of the past which speak as much to the period in which they were produced as they do to the specific period of the Wars of Independence. Such depictions are not “fake news,” but neither are they “truth.” And, as Indiana Jones famously stated, “if it’s truth Filmyou’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall.”

So, instead of getting too bogged down in discussions of historical accuracy, let’s instead welcome this latest foray into medieval Scottish history. Let’s look forward to the renewed engagement with medieval Scottish history and renewed debates about this fascinating period that such a high-profile depiction as Outlaw King will surely provoke.

Dr Iain MacInnes, Senior Lecturer, University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History

To find out more about the Centre for History, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/research-enterprise/cultural/centre-for-history 


Flights of fancy

RaeFresh back from a Royal Aeronautical Society conference in Bristol, Professor Andrew Rae provides insights into air transport of the future, including the possibilities of drone taxis and electric aeroplanes.

Much is being made of the development of driverless cars, especially of the setbacks, as the technology matures towards a feasible application. While driverless cars will alter the way we travel, the concept will not necessarily fundamentally alter the vehicle in which we get from A to B. The cabin layout may change, with the removal of the requirement for a forward-facing driver, but the car will probably still have four wheels, doors and somewhere to put your luggage, your shopping, or your faithful companion, canine or otherwise. The move away from fossil fuels will possibly have more effect on the design of our runabouts than the move towards autonomous operation.

The same cannot be said for the possibility of pilotless aeroplanes. While the move towards electric propulsion will allow the designers of aeroplanes to explore new configurations, the technology behind autonomous flight will open entirely new markets and, thus, new and very different, types of aircraft. All of the major airframe manufactures are contemplating air vehicles based essentially on the technology familiar to many of us who have seen and played with drones, from handheld toys to platforms capable of high-definition aerial surveying. The prospect has also attracted a variety of start-ups or companies not normally associated with building aeroplanes, enticed by the notion of a ‘flying taxi’ or ‘urban air mobility’.


As with most technologies, there are many positive ways to use uninhabited air vehicles (UAVs) and there are those who will seek to exploit them for nefarious purposes. The low-cost and relatively high capability of ‘toy’ drones has allowed us, for example, to explore the notion of a ‘remote pharmacy’, delivering prescription medication directly to those in remote and rural locations or the personal distribution of parcels from your favourite online shopping provider.  At the same time, they are being used to supply those in prison with contraband items or to be cheap weapons delivery systems in areas of conflict.

The rapid advance in drone capability and availability has outpaced the legislation needed to ensure the safety of the skies above us. Many of those flying drones will be unaware of, and consequently break, the current requirements of pilots. These include minimum distances to be kept from people or buildings and the need to keep the drone in sight at all times. That said, the ability to do many tasks more easily, more safely and more cheaply than is currently possible, and allow some tasks that were previously impossible, means that the positive uses of drones are only beginning to be explored.

CaptureThe concept of urban air mobility raises additional questions beyond the mere feasibility of the technology. One of these is the impact on our environment. In a modern urban environment, traffic will often blend into the background noise, with only the occasional siren or loud exhaust piercing our consciousness. Helicopters fall into this same category; we are generally aware of one nearby. The thought of hundreds of helicopter-like vehicles operating constantly would thus present a relative assault on our senses, added to which, drone rotors rotate much quicker and thus produce a higher frequency noise.

NASA has conducted psychoacoustic studies, at its Exterior Effects Room at Langley Research Center, to gauge the subjective response to noise from flyovers of small UAVs against that from road vehicles in residential neighbourhoods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UAVs were found to be more annoying than conventional traffic, even when of the same loudness, suggesting that the type (frequency) of the drone noise is more intrusive. However, it is probable that, could the same test have been performed in the Victorian age, when pitting automobiles against horse-drown transport, the same conclusion may have been reached, and look where we are now! Also, the reduction of emissions from electric motors is welcome, but the electricity has to come from somewhere.


As a designer of aeroplanes, I am truly excited by the possibilities offered by autonomous flight. Our UAV work at  the University of the Highlands and Islands includes the development, evaluation and operational aspects of new UAV designs, including the ‘Phoenix’ ultra-long endurance aeroplane that is part airship, part aeroplane and is self-sufficient in energy. This 15m-long, 10.5m-wingspan vehicle is being developed as part of an Innovate-UK-funded project and will commence flight tests in October this year.

The advances being made in battery technology and hybrid systems will see the embrace of electric aerial propulsion, and will allow us as designers to move away from the constraints on the configuration made by the gas-turbine engine. Running a ring-main around the aircraft will allow us to put propulsors almost anywhere and everywhere. However, the freedoms offered by these things have had, and will increasingly have, an impact on or lives and our environment.

As an engineer, I am thrilled by the possibility that things which seemed science fiction just a decade ago are now becoming reality, though wary of the way in which humanity can respond to such opportunities.


Professor Andrew Rae, Professor of Engineering, Perth College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands

For information on the University of the Highlands and Islands’ aircraft engineering and maintenance programmes, visit: www.uhi.ac.uk/en/courses

Slow Adventure: Helping to alleviate the pressures of tourism?

With visitor numbers to Scotland increasing by 17% in 2017 and reports of another successful summer season this year, Dr Steve Taylor from the Centre Recreation and Tourism Research at West Highland College UHI discusses the potential of slow adventure to create a more sustainable tourism sector.

TreesA recent episode of BBC’s Countryfile included a feature, ostensibly focussed on the Isle of Skye and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, on the very current issue of tourism pressures at some of the country’s most popular tourism sites. Dubbed ‘over-tourism’, the term has been used in the popular media, here and overseas, to describe the scale of the threats to the environmental and social fabric of local communities in these prime locations. The problem is not necessarily one of too many tourists, per se, but rather the over-concentration of visitors at honeypot sites, most notably in this peak season.

Alongside more direct managerial interventions in the national park, the presenter introduced ‘slow tourism’ as a possible way of encouraging tourists to visit and dwell longer in these less well-known and less-congested areas. Sara Mair Bellshaw, from the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research in West Highland College UHI, Fort William, explained how slow tourism or more correctly ‘slow adventure’ tourism could help to attract people to some of the west coast’s wilder and unspoilt areas. Leon and Alison Durbin of Wildwood Bushcraft assisted Sara in this feature with the provision of bushcraft skills and expertise, as they are part of a group of businesses who create slow adventure experiences for visitors in Lochaber.

West Highland College UHI, Adventure stock shootThis notion of slow adventure, derived from an academic paper by two former University of the Highlands and Islands’ academics, suggests an antidote to people’s frenetic urban lives, encouraging people to enjoy and experience the outdoors at a slower pace. Rather than mass tourism’s scratching the veneer of Scotland, slow adventurers immerse themselves in wild places and engage with local people, stories and food. It appeals to an affluent urban consumer base and captures a customer appetite demonstrated by the many bushcraft or escape programmes and stories in popular media.

Slow adventure was developed as a marketing concept in a recent transnational project, led by the University of the Highlands and Islands and co-financed by the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme. Facilitating the collaboration of local businesses, regions across Scandinavia, Ireland and the UK have developed a wide range of slow adventure products, from foraging in Lochaber to cycling and sauna in Finland. The research centre in Fort William is now looking to develop slow adventure as a ‘movement’ that will encourage businesses from other destinations and regions, in Scotland and beyond, to develop their own unique sustainable tourism products.

BikeClearly, adventures at a slower pace are not for everyone and the majority of our visitors will be undeterred in their quest to see as much as possible. However, it is clear from discussions with tour operators and marketing bodies at international tradeshows that slow adventure is a marketing brand that does capture the current consumer appetite for more authentic and immersive experiences. And slow adventure recognises that Scotland’s landscapes have so much to offer in the cooler seasons – and more visitors appear to be waking up to the fact that late spring is, in many ways, the time to see the best of the Highlands.

The creation of these tourism alternatives is not trying to reduce the number of tourists to our shores. While also appealing to a more affluent consumer, slow adventure seeks to take people off the well-trammelled tourist trail into the wilder and less developed areas of the Highlands. And rather than the rush to ‘do Scotland’ – do we not have enough haste in our everyday lives? – it’s about getting to people to slow down, stay a while, learn something new and let stories, not selfies, narrate people’s experience of the Highlands.


Dr Steve Taylor, Head of the Centre Recreation and Tourism Research, West Highland College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands

For more information on University of the Highlands and Islands courses, visit www.uhi.ac.uk

Turning Blue Monday green: the physical and mental benefits of green exercise

With the festive season nearly over and Blue Monday fast approaching, University of the Highlands and Islands PhD student Matthew Fraser provides insights into the physical and mental benefits of green exercise.

At this time of year it’s easy to slip into bad habits. From a dietary perspective, a lot of us over the festive period find ourselves eating things we normally wouldn’t consume. DrinksCombine this with the dropping temperatures, inclement weather and gyms closing for holidays and many of us will find ourselves conducting less physical activity and adopting poor lifestyle habits.

As a direct result of this, many us of set a New Year’s resolution designed to physically and mentally motivate us to take up positive habits. Despite this, statistics show that 80% will have quit this resolution by February. We fail to maintain our resolutions for many reasons, but typically creating unrealistic resolutions is the largest contributor to failure.

However, a new emerging form of physical activity is at the centre of exercise research and has been shown to not only increase motivation, but to offer supplementary mental and physical health benefits.

KayakSo what is this new form of exercise I hear you say? Well it’s not new. In fact it’s the oldest known form of exercise to man. It’s called outdoor exercise, newly termed ‘green exercise’. Areas to conduct green exercise are not exclusive to outdoor areas which are green. The research notes that local parks, mountains, hill trails, woodlands, beaches and public greenspaces are areas where benefits occur.

How can green exercise benefit us?

My current PhD research centres around green exercise. Being from a sporting background, I was surprised to discover the sheer amount of benefits that we unconsciously receive from conducting exercise in the presence of nature. I’m sure many of us by now have heard the exercise guidelines that recommend exercise for 150 minutes per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity.

While we all should aim to meet these targets, many of us find it challenging to begin conducting exercise. However, an interesting finding from the green exercise research found that, when walking at a self-selected intensity outdoors, participants actually exercise at a greater intensity whilst paradoxically perceiving the exercise as easier, compared to exercising indoors.

Most of the research into green exercise has tended to focus on mental health benefits. Mental health has become an increasingly large issue in modern society. Take ‘Blue Monday’. Blue Monday is the third Monday of January and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. So how can green exercise help improve our mental health? The figure below demonstrates just some of the mental health benefits of exercising in nature.


In terms of winter exercise, it has been shown that a 50 minute walk can improve focus and memory by 20%. GolfThis finding might be important for those of us who work or study in jobs where we are required to problem solve and concentrate for long periods of time. Whilst 50 minutes may seem like a long time to exercise, other studies have shown the greatest benefits to improving mood and self-esteem occur just after five minutes of green exercise.

Not only this, but the natural environment provides an area conducive for social interaction with friends, while also providing us with an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

How to set goals?

Many of us set goals for the New Year for various health reasons. When setting a New Year’s resolution we should make sure it follows the SMART goal setting framework:

  1. Specific
  2. Measureable
  3. Attainable
  4. Realistic
  5. Time Measured

TimeSetting specific goals means instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to start exercising”, you would say “I’m going to go walking three time a week” or “I’m going to lose two pounds”. By doing this you’re making your goals measureable. But remember, take small steps – taking on too much at once makes many quit through seeing no progress.

Most importantly, any goal you set should be attainable and realistic. For example, say “I’m going to go walking for 30 minutes, three times a week” or “I’m going to lose two pounds in three weeks”.

Finally, by making your goals time measured, you can celebrate reaching milestones and thus keep increasing motivation to succeed with your goals.


Hopefully this article highlighted some of the benefits of conducting physical activity in nature. If you’d like to hear more about my research or even volunteer to participate in some of my research to witness for yourself the benefits of conducting outdoor exercise, I’d love to hear from you.Bike

Thanks and I wish you all a prosperous and successful New Year!

Twitter: @MattJamesFraser

Email: 08005183@uhi.ac.uk


For more information on the University of the Highlands and Islands health-related programmes and research, visit www.uhi.ac.uk