Professor Ailsa Niven

Personal chair of Psychology of Physical Activity


Ailsa joined the University of Edinburgh in 2011 as a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health, and was promoted to Professor in 2022. Ailsa’s background is in sport and exercise psychology and she is BPS Chartered and holds Health Professions Council status in this field. Ailsa's research and teaching focuses on the psychological determinants and consequences of physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Ailsa is currently leading a MRC PHIND and ESRC IAA grant focusing on supporting workers to move more when working in the home environment. Ailsa contributes to teaching on the MSc Physical Activity for Health, MSc Performance Psychology, BSc Applied Sport Science, and BMedSci (Physical Activity for Health).  Ailsa has previously been the CAHSS Associate Dean for Research Ethics and Integrity (2019-2022), and is currently the co-Deputy Director for Research in Moray House School of Education and Sport.   Ailsa works part-time and enjoys spending time with her family (and new puppy), and being active when she can. 


Senior Fellow Higher Education Academy

PGCert in Academic Practice, Heriot Watt University

PGCert in Counselling Skills, University of Strathclyde

PhD Professional practice in sport psychology, Coventry University

MSc Sport and Exercise Sciences (Psychology), Liverpool John Moores University

MA (Hons) Psychology, University of Edinburgh

Responsibilities & affiliations

Co-Deputy Director of Research, Moray House School of Education and Sport

Member of the British Psychological Society Ethics Committee

Areas of interest for supervision

Main teaching is in the area of sport and exercise psychology and physical activity for health, including undergraduate and postgraduate project supervision.

Current PhD students supervised

  • Eva Coral-Almeida - Sedentary behaviour at work and musculoskeletal outcomes
  • Niamh Hart - Yoga in schools for mental health benefits

Past PhD students supervised

  • Dr Linda Thompson - The couch to 5K programme for promoting physical activity
  • Dr Mary Allison - Realist evaluation of the Paths for All Stepcount Challenge
  • Dr Mhairi MacDonald- Walking for health in adolescent girls
  • Dr Nicky Laing- Why older adults start and continue to walk with walking groups
  • Dr Laird Yvonne- Social support for physical activity in adolescent girls

Research summary

Main research interests are focused on the psychological determinants and consequences of physical activity (and particularly walking) and sedentary behaviour within a range of groups including adolescent girls, working adults, older adults, and individuals with mental health challenges. 

Current research interests

Current research activities focus on understanding more about sedentary behaviour when working at home.   COVID-19 has lead to a radical change in our working practices, with many individuals now spending some of the working week at home.   Initial evidence suggests this pivot to home working is leading to increases in sedentary behaviour.   We are interested in knowing more about this, and developing interventions to support workers to reduce their sedentary time.    We have worked with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh to develop some guidance, based on data collected from employees (see   Further evidence and recommendations will follow from our ongoing MRC PHIND grant (see infographic for more detail-

Research activities

View all 3 activities on Research Explorer

Project activity


  • 2021 MRC PHIND - £150K Are we sitting (too) comfortably?: Developing health-enhancing intervention strategies to reduce time spent sitting whilst working from home (PI)
  • 2021 Baily Thomas - £94K Developing and evaluating the feasibility of a theory-based intervention to increase walking in adults with intellectual disabilities (CI)
  • 2018 HSC R&D Division Cross-border Healthcare Intervention Trials in Ireland Network (CHITIN) (~£310K) - The feasibility of a walking intervention to increase activity and reduce sedentary behaviour in people with serious mental illness (CI)
  • 2018 ESRC IAA (£9K)- SHaRE – The Scottish walking for Health Research Exchange (PI)
  • 2017 SGSSS/ESRC PhD s’ship (~£61K)– Evaluating Paths for All’s Step Count Challenge (with Prof Ruth Jepson)
  • 2015 MRC PHIND - £150K: Developing a culturally adapted walking intervention for South East Asians Co-Investigator
  • 2015 Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government - £225K: Too much sitting in extended bouts in stroke survivors: A qualitative study to inform novel interventions.  Co-Investigator

View all 79 publications on Research Explorer