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Measuring the impact of our lockdown Step Count Challenge

The mental well-being benefits of participation in the Step Count Challenge during Covid-19 lockdown and government policy of social distancing.

Published: 29/09/2020

This year's spring Step Count Challenge took place during lockdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of us found our routines turned upside down. Many of us were working from home and juggling home-schooling and child care, we were limited to one walk outdoors a day and we were unable to socialise and meet friends and family outwith our own households.

We wanted to know what, if any, impact the Step Count Challenge had in helping people to be active, keep in touch with colleagues and to promote mental well-being. We worked with Victoria Whiteford, an MSc student at The University of Edinburgh’s Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, to carry out a study looking at the benefits that the challenge had for participants. Victoria has written the following blog post describing her research and findings.

My research project explored the mental health and well-being benefits of participation in the special Spring edition of the Step Count Challenge. Individuals who had registered for the Step Count Challenge were invited to complete an online questionnaire before the challenge, and again once it was finished. Results from the online questionnaire suggested taking part in the Step Count Challenge had improved mental well-being for many so we wanted to explore the reasons for this. 

I conducted 12 online interviews with individuals who had completed the 4-week Step Count Challenge. Participants told me how participation in the Step Count Challenge had positively contributed towards improving their mental well-being in various ways, as well as making them feel more socially connected. 

The Step Count Challenge encouraged walking outdoors in fresh air, interacting with others and connecting with nature, all of which were highlighted by individuals as improving well-being¹. Many individuals spoke about experiencing positive improvements such as better sleep, feeling more productive, more motivated and being more active. 

Going out for regular walks also provided a sense of mindfulness² and helped individuals to reflect on aspects of their life, acknowledging what was important to them.

"It [SCC] makes you re-evaluate what’s important because we often get caught up in the day to day bis [business], whereas the step challenge gave you time to focus out with that."

Not only did walking contribute to improved well-being but so too did social interaction between colleagues. For some engaging in chat with their colleagues and creating fun challenges helped to reduce stress and improve social connectedness³. 

"The main benefit of it [SCC] was talking to people….. so it was good in that way and that you were competing with people….. so there was a bit of inter team communication as well, that helped."

"I think the kind of social interaction with people in work was good, it was just you know what it’s like especially during lockdown because you can’t, you’re not bumping into people in the office anymore…. so it’s just a good way to have a slightly different type of interaction."

Through conducting this research, I believe the mental health and well-being benefits of regular walking and social connectedness are invaluable and should be emphasised to workplaces. Participation in the Step Count Challenge could be hugely beneficial for workplace health, especially as we seek to support staff and teams during the challenges the COVID pandemic has presented.


¹ Walking and mental health - Kelly, P., Williamson, C., Niven, A., Hunter, R., Mutrie, N., & Richards, J. (2018). 'Walking on sunshine: Scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health.' British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52, 800- 806 – 

² Mindfulness: 

³ Social connectedness: