Dr Ailsa Niven

Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health


Ailsa joined the University of Edinburgh in 2011 as a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health.  Ailsa’s main remit is to lead and teach on a new MSc Physical Activity for Health (launched 2015) and undertake research within this area.  Ailsa’s background is in sport and exercise psychology and she is BPS Chartered and holds Health Professions Council status in this field.


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

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

  • Nicky Laing- Why older adults start and continue to walk with walking groups
  • Laird Yvonne- Social support for physical activity in adolescent girls

Past PhD students supervised

  • Mhairi MacDonald- Walking for health 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 and older adults. 

Current research interests

I am an active member of the Physical Activity and Health Research Centre (PAHRC). Working in partnership with Paths for All, current research around walking for health focuses on three main projects: i) Understanding participants' experiences of the Paths for All Workplace Step Count Challenge; ii) Investigating why older adults start and continue to walk with Paths for All walking groups; and iii) Adapting existing walking programmes for ethnic minority groups.

Building on a long-standing collaboration with Dr Samantha Fawkner focused on physical activity in adolescent girls, we are currently considering the potential of walking and the role of social support in understanding the physical activity behaviour of this group.

Other current research activities are focused on sedentary behaviour and particularly in young people, in the workplace and in stroke survivors.

Project activity

  • 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 qualitaive study to inform novel interventions.  Co-Investigator
  • 2014 Scottish Universities Insight Institute £8751: Walking for Wellbeing: developing sustainable engagement between research, policy and practice. Co-investigator
  • 2012 Paths for All £45K: Walking in older adults (PhD studentship). Principal investigator
  • 2012 West Lothian Community Health and Care Partnership; £4,500: Physical activity and nutrition status in families in West Lothian. Co-investigator
  • 2010 West Lothian Community Health and Care Partnership; £17K: Physical activity in primary and seondary school children in West Lothian. Co-investigator
  • 2009 Scottish GovernmentSPARColl Physical activity for health PhD studentship ; £61K: Walking for health in adolescent girls. Co-investigator
  • 2009 The Nuffield Foundation - £7447  A qualitative investigation of the psychological determinants and consequences of walking for health. Principal investigator
  • 2008 Scottish Funding Council; Knowledge exchange on public policy in Scotland - £54K. Increasing physical activity for health in hard to reach groups. Co-investigator
  • 2008 Chief Scientist Office; Small Grant award £47k: The potentail benefits for adolescent girls of active computer gaming.  Co-investigator

View all 55 publications on Research Explorer