Researcher in Focus: Making a Splash a Day in May with Health Psychologist, Dr Jane Walsh 

The Irish Cancer Society Make a Splash a Day in May challenge helps to raise vital funds for cancer research. Cancer researcher Dr Jane Walsh, is a keen supporter of the challenge and writes about the importance of goal-setting. 

Setting achievable goals is key for a healthy exercise and activity regime that can reduce the risk of cancer and aid recovery after treatment, according to health psychologist Dr Jane Walsh.

In a finding that will provide encouragement for many Dr Walsh, who is Director of the Mobile Technology and Health (mHealth) Research Group at NUI Galway, says studies have proven that it doesn’t matter whether you start big or small, goal-setting is the key.

“The idea is not to be intimidated, that you start from where you are and do whatever you can,” says Dr Walsh, an Irish Cancer Society funded alumnus who has also sat on the charity’s Research Advisory Committee.

“The scientific idea behind that is if someone sets a goal themselves or if it’s a shared goal that they feel is achievable, it builds their can-do mentality, but if it’s too difficult and they fail they may actually disengage. So if you’re going for a swim then even getting in up to your waist is a great start. There are no rules: do whatever you feel comfortable with; do a bit more next time, or maybe less.”

Dr Walsh has seen the results through her own research funded by the Society in which cancer survivors were asked to track their daily walks using wearable fitness technology.
She explains: “People loved it, it got them engaged in exercise, there were definitely increases in step counts using the devices at various points.

“It showed us people liked the communication; they liked a specific goal and instruction on how to do it. We gave them Fitbits, told them to get walking and added 10% goals, so it was heavily influenced by psychological science and using simple, off-the-shelf wearable technology designed to promote health and wellbeing.

“It was cutting-edge research in a really important area.”

A regular sea swimmer herself in Salthill, Dr Walsh is a keen supporter of the Society’s Splash a Day in May fundraiser for cancer research. She says getting into the water carries many benefits:

“The challenge is so brilliant. We know that during lockdown this activity helped people who hadn’t ever considered doing it before to get through the dark winter months. It was an eye-opener for many, and that can-do mindset is really powerful: the idea that getting in every day over a defined period is not impossible, you can do it if you set your mind to it, and what’s more you’re doing it for a great cause and enhancing your own health and wellbeing in the process.”

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