Active Living Research Program

HMRI Active Living Research Program

Overview

Being active helps to prevent and treat a range of physical, mental and cognitive health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers, and depression.  

Sleep is an essential part of the cycle, allowing your body and mind to recharge and can also influence many of these same outcomes. 

Our research looks to understand the benefits and help reinforce positive behaviours in the community. 

 

Research Areas

Global estimates show that one in four adults and more than three-quarters of adolescents do not meet the recommendations for aerobic activity.

In Australia,only 20% of children meet the 24-hour movement guidelines and more than 30% of adults are physically inactive and have poor sleep. Staying active regularly is essential for good physical and mental health and wellbeing. This is true no matter how young or old you are. Equally, quality sleep benefits your mental health and emotional well-being and supports your physical body to stay healthy and well. This applies across the entire lifespan from childhood, to adolescence, adulthood, and old age. 

Regular physical activity and quality sleep both play a key role in the prevention and management of premature mortality and numerous health problems including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancers, as well as mental and cognitive health and quality of life. Physical activity also benefits sleep, musculoskeletal and reproductive health problems and helps to prevent falls and fall-related injuries, declines in bone health and improves the ability to carry out daily tasks in the older population.

Further, amid the present COVID-19 pandemic, regular physical activity has been shown to have a protective effect against respiratory illnesses and viruses, as well as enhance the effectiveness of vaccinations. Getting a good night’s sleep supports healthy brain function, which means better decision making and improved concentration, capacity for learning and ability to carry out daily tasks.

Research Innovations and Discovery

Our research aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the community through the promotion of healthy sleep habits and active lifestyles that include increased physical activity and decreased time spent sitting/lying down and on screens. Our three-step approach to achieving this is: 

  1. Developing and testing ‘cutting edge’ programs that focus on the prevention and treatment of health issues arising from physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour and poor sleep. 
  2. Using the findings to generate and communicate new knowledge to the community about the physical, mental, and cognitive benefits of physical activity and quality sleep. 
  3. Developing practical solutions for the general public and health practitioners on ways to increase physical activity and improve sleep, as well as feeding into government policy. 

Our unique approach is based on our extensive array of diverse and successful partnerships with industry, Non-Government Organisations (such as the Heart Foundation, and Cancer Council); Sporting Organisations (state and national bodies), and Government (local and state) and international ​partners. Over many years, our researchers have developed these quality partnerships that have led to a two-way relationship in designing research based on the needs of the community, ensuring new knowledge is communicated broadly and that those research outcomes are implemented directly into school, community and public health settings.  

Current Active Living Research Program projects are spread across a range of settings including schools, families, communities, workplaces, clinical settings and sporting organisations. We are also extending the reach of our existing research into regional and rural communities and with vulnerable populations including Indigenous Australians & those with disabilities.

School-based projects 

Learning to Lead (ARC-funded 2022-24, led by Professor David Lubans): This innovative project aims to investigate the direct and indirect effects of a school-based leadership program for primary school-aged children. Schools are ideal settings for developing children’s leadership effectiveness, but there are few examples of evidence-based programs guided by leadership theory. This project generates new knowledge about the importance of leadership skills for students’ self-efficacy, classroom behaviour, and teachers’ well-being and work-related stress. Expected outcomes of this inter-disciplinary project include a framework for understanding how children’s leadership behaviours shape school culture and an evidence-based program for dissemination in Australian schools. 

Burn 2 Learn adapted (MRFF funded 2021-24, led by Professor David Lubans): Adolescents with disability are less physically active and more likely to have co-occurring chronic health conditions than their typically developing peers. Schools are ideal settings to address the physical activity decline that typically occurs during adolescence, but youth with a disability have been largely neglected in school-based health promotion efforts. The aim of this project is to assess the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a time-efficient school-based physical activity intervention for adolescents with disability. We designed and pilot tested the Burn 2 Learn adapted (B2La) program in partnership with the NSW DoE and Special Olympic Australia.

The program promotes participation in vigorous-intensity aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise breaks that are delivered during school hours as well as participation in lifestyle physical activity outside of school. It represents a new opportunity for adolescents with a disability to be physically active at school. It's also designed to enhance adolescents’ physical literacy (i.e., motivation, skills, knowledge and confidence) to support their participation in physical activity once they leave school. 

Resistance Training for Teens (NHMRC Partnership funded 2021-23, led by Professor David Lubans): Physical inactivity is a global problem due to its high prevalence and resulting health, economic, and social consequences. National guidelines recommend that children and adolescents accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day and participate in muscle-strengthening activities (e.g., resistance training) on three or more days per week.

Less than 2% of Australian adolescents meet both the MVPA and muscle-strengthening guidelines. The aim of this project is to assess the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different implementation strategies to support the dissemination of the evidence-based ‘Resistance Training for Teens’ (RT for Teens) program. In our effectiveness study, we demonstrated that the RT for Teens intervention improved adolescents’ muscular fitness, body composition and resistance training technique. In our subsequent dissemination study, we observed considerable variability in program delivery and numerous barriers to implementation, such as lack of time and support from school leaders. The aim of this new study is to assess the effect of three support models (i.e., Low, Moderate and High) on the implementation (i.e., reach, effectiveness, dose delivered, fidelity, adoption, sustainability, impact and cost) of the RT for Teens program in NSW schools.

Community, family and workplace projects

The Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered (HMRI-funded, led by Professor Philip Morgan): This program empowers fathers as agents of change in their daughters’ lives. The program is the first ever to target the father-daughter relationship as a novel engagement mechanism to improve social-emotional wellbeing and physical activity in girls. Almost 2,500 daughters and dads have participated in the program since 2015. A collaboration with Women in Sport-UK and English Premier League Football clubs (2019-2021) also saw the program delivered in England. 

In 2019, the NSW Minister for Sport announced $2.4 million of funding to disseminate 'Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered' across NSW in collaboration with the Office of Sport and develop sport-specific adaptions with leading sports organisations. The first of these sport-specific adaptations, 'Daughters & Dads Cricket', 'Daughters & Dads Football' is planned for development in 2022. 

Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids (led by Professor Philip Morgan): This program has been widely applauded for its innovative approach and impressive outcomes, receiving multiple prestigious awards including an 'Excellence in Obesity Prevention Award' from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Following this success, the program has now been adapted, trialled and delivered to communities in the UK and Hispanic families in the USA. Projects are also underway to adapt the program for incarcerated fathers in Scottish prisons in partnership with the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Prison Service, to expand the Hispanic HDHK program in the USA, and to evaluate an adapted program for German families in collaboration with the Leibniz Institute in Germany. In 2021, the program was been awarded funding from the Heart Foundation to tailor the program for Indigenous Australian families. 

Healthy Youngsters, Healthy Dads (led by Professor Philip Morgan): This world-first program targets fathers and their preschool-aged children to improve physical activity and nutrition. The program teaches fathers effective parenting skills for role modelling a healthy lifestyle to optimise the health and wellbeing of their pre-school-aged children. Over 220 families have participated in this ground-breaking program in the Newcastle region to date. 

Ecofit (NHMRC partnership funded, led by Professor Ron Plotnikoff): This program led by Professor Ron Plotnikoff in partnership with Newcastle and Lake Macquarie Councils, aims to increase physical activity levels through the use of local parks and outdoor gym facilities. It includes the use of a smartphone app, a group training session and a health check. 

EMU (Education, Movement and Understanding) HMRI funded: Led by Associate Professor Narelle Eather, this community-based Indigenous games program targets health and well-being, literacy and cultural appreciation in children and their families. Initial results from the program indicate that improvements were observed in children’s cardiorespiratory fitness, enjoyment of sport, physical self-perceptions and academic achievement. 

The SHED-IT: Recharge study (HMRI-funded) led by Dr Myles Young tested the efficacy of an online lifestyle program targeting depression and weight loss in men. It was adapted from the evidence-based SHED-IT Weight Loss Program for men to include additional support to help men improve their mental (as well as physical) fitness. Although the 3-month program was completely self-guided, men in the intervention group lost an average of 3.3 kg after completing the intervention and reduced their depressive symptoms by 46%. These changes were significantly greater than those observed in a wait-list control group and were maintained at a 6-month follow-up. Additional analyses revealed that the improvement in men’s moderate to vigorous physical activity during the program was a driving force behind the men’s improved mental health, among other improvements to lifestyle and thinking behaviours. This study confirmed that integrated online interventions targeting men’s physical and mental health can play a key role in preventing and treating depression in men. 

Workplace POWER: This program led by Professor Philip Morgan targets men in the workplace. Using gender-tailored resources, the program has helped hundreds of blokes across Australia improve their lifestyles, including employees of QLD Police, Daracon, TransGrid, Ampcontrol and Tomago Aluminium. In 2013, the program received the inaugural National Preventative Health Award for the best initiative in Workplace Health and Well-being for large workplaces. 

Sitting and Sleepy Project (led by Professor Mitch Duncan): Prolonged sitting and inadequate sleep are a growing concern in society and are associated with impairments to cardiometabolic health and cognitive performance. However, the combined effect of prolonged sitting and inadequate sleep on measures of health and cognitive performance is unknown. In addition, the circadian disruption caused by shift work may further impact workers’ cardiometabolic health and cognitive performance. Funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant, the Sitting and Sleepy Project uses a laboratory experimental protocol to manipulate adult's activity level (prolonged sitting vs regular activity breaks), sleep duration (5 hr sleep vs 9 hr sleep opportunity) and circadian disruption (dayshift vs night shift). Participants live in the sleep lab at CQUni for 7 days and complete a 5-day experimental protocol that manipulates different combinations of their activity level, sleep duration and circadian disruption and examines the impact this has on glucose control. This project provides world-leading evidence for the potential of physical activity to offset the ill effects of short sleep and/or shift work; this is key for the millions of adults with high levels of sitting and poor sleep, and who are shift workers. 

Helping colorectal cancer survivors at risk of cardiovascular disease: Professor Duncan led a team of an international team of researchers to secure joint funding from World Cancer Research Fund and Cancer Australia to co-create an intervention with colorectal cancer survivors at high risk of cardiovascular disease to improve their physical activity, diet and sleep. Read more about it here.

Exercise projects, physiotherapy specific
  • Posture and task-specific exercise training for chronic neck pain 
  • Breathing exercises for chronic pain 
  • Centre for Sporting and Exercise Excellence proposal (submitted by Suzanne Snodgrass) 

The Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids international rollout

The program was adapted, trialled and delivered to communities in the UK and Hispanic families in the USA. Projects are also underway to adapt the program for incarcerated fathers in Scottish prisons in partnership with the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Prison Service; to expand the Hispanic HDHK program in the USA and to evaluate an adapted program for German families in collaboration with the Leibniz Institute in Germany. 

International rollout of the Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered program

The program is now delivered in England through partnerships with Women in Sport-UK and English Premier League Football clubs (2019-2021). 

Scale-up of the Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered program

In 2019, the NSW Minister for Sport announced $2.4 million of funding to disseminate Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered across NSW in collaboration with the Office of Sport and develop sport-specific adaptions with leading sports organisations. The first of these sport-specific adaptations, Daughters & Dads Cricket, was delivered in collaboration with Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia in 2020. This program is now being rolled out nationally, in partnership with Cricket Australia. Daughters &  Dads Basketball was developed in 2021 and will be delivered across NSW during 2022 in partnership with Basketball NSW, while Daughters & Dads Football is planned for development in 2022. 

NSW Department of Education

The strong relationship between Professor David Lubans and the NSW Department of Education over many years has led to school-based interventions designed to promote physical activity and improve fitness and well-being in young people being rolled out in primary and secondary schools throughout the state. 

10,000 steps program

Professor Mitch Duncan was involved in the team that set up the 10,000 steps program in Australia and introduced the program to the University of Newcastle. The program challenges participants and their colleagues to increase their daily step count by using a team-based workplace challenge. Learn more about the program here.

Impact of research projects 

Our NSW Office of Sport Workshop informed government policy to increase female participation in sports and led to the rollout of the DADAE program in NSW. Read more about it here

Our research informed several national standards and practice guidelines:

Several of our programs became commercially successful, including:  

  • The Queensland Police trained in the delivery of our Workplace POWER weight loss program and delivery of the program to employees in their organisation. The purchase of the program resources was available through the UON website, and
  • The SHED–IT weight loss program is also available for purchase through the UON website.  

In the ARC Research Engagement and Impact Assessment (2018), several of our case studies were rated as 'highly engaging', including:

  • Resistance Training for Teens (Prof. David Lubans)
  • Thinking While Moving in Maths, and
  • Daughter and Dads Exercising and Empowered (Prof. Philip Morgan).
Active Living Research Program Team
    Featured videos

    This video explains the research issues and problems being tackled by Professor Suzanne Snodgrass: Biomechanics and Exercise Testing Centre.

    Awards

    Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered

    2020: Received the Australasian Green Gown Award in the category of ‘Benefiting Society’ in 2020.

    2021: Received a ‘Highly Commended’ recognition in the same category at the International Green Gown Awards in 2021. Open to universities and colleges across the world, the International Green Gown Awards recognise the ‘powerful and innovative ways education institutions are benefiting the lives of individuals, communities and wider society.’ 

    Outstanding team of researchers 

    2021: HMRI Research Team Award This award recognises an outstanding team of researchers who have collectively demonstrated excellence in health and medical research for the wellbeing of our communities. 

    Outstanding researcher

    2021: Winner of the Work Integrated Learning Staff Member of the Year (Prof. Philip Morgan for Daughters and Dads course). This Award celebrates the professional learning experiences and partnerships that prepare UON students for success. It is in recognition of outstanding achievement in the delivery of meaningful and consequential Work Integrated Learning experiences for UON students. 

    Feedback from judges: “This year, Professor Philip Morgan has been awarded the Work Integrated Learning Staff Member of the Year for his Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered program. The program, a first of its kind, calls on fathers to improve their daughter’s wellbeing through optimising child health, gender equity, parental relationships, community engagement and more. Importantly, the program offers hands-on training to pre-service teachers, profoundly impacting the development of their teaching practices. The initiative has received widespread recognition and the course was the highest rated by students studying at the University of Newcastle in 2020. Hundreds of pre-service teachers have trained in the program, creating far-reaching educational and community benefits. Without Professor Philip Morgan, none of this would’ve been possible and we congratulate him on this amazing achievement

    Media mentions

    Healthy Youngsters, Healthy Dads program: Healthy dads inspire positive change  

    DADAE Cricket program

    Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids: Grant funds obesity prevention research among Hispanic dads and children

    Resistance Training for Teens 

    Burn to Learn project

    Learning to Lead project: Over $5 million in research funding awarded 

    2021-2023. Lubans, DR, McKay, H., Salmon, J., Smith, J., Morgan, P., Sutherland, R., Penney, D., Scott, J.Research partnerships deliver better health outcomes in the Northern Territory:

    Prof Mitch Duncan (Sleep & Physical activity research): World Cancer Research Fund & Cancer Australia funding received: Helping colorectal cancer survivors at risk of cardiovascular disease 

    Dr Emily Cox (Sports Science): Why can't I stick to exercise? 

    Prof Philip Morgan: The benefits of being a football parent

     

    Professor Ron Plotnikoff - Cardiovascular Researcher
    Research Program :
    • Active Living Research Program
    Research Topics :
    Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
    Dr Mitch Duncan
    Research Program :
    • Active Living Research Program
    Research Topics :
    Healthy Lifestyles, Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
    Associate Professor Narelle Eather
    Research Program :
    • Active Living Research Program
    Research Topics :
    Healthy Ageing, Healthy Lifestyles, Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
    Research Program :
    • Active Living Research Program
    Research Topics :
    Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
    Professor Philip Morgan
    Research Program :
    • Active Living Research Program
    Research Topics :
    Healthy Lifestyles, Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
    Dr Myles Young
    Research Program :
    • Active Living Research Program
    Research Topics :
    Clinical Mental Health, Healthy Lifestyles, Preventing Cardiovascular Disease, Psychology