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The USW Professor Studying the Impact of Extreme Exercise on Mental Health

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A University of South Wales (USW) expert is leading a sport psychology support programme, while also advising on a linked study, that looks at the impact of extreme physical exercise on mental health in wounded injured and sick military veterans.

Professor David Shearer, who is Professor in Elite Performance Psychology at USW, is providing sport psychology support to the Mind Over Matter team – which is currently training for the 2019 Race Across America (RAAM).

He is also advising on a research programme led by Leadership Challenges – which organises RAAM –   which is looking into the long-term effects of physical challenges on psychological wellbeing in military veterans.

The non-stop Race Across America (RAAM) – which runs from June 14 to June 23 – sees riders travel 3,000 miles from California on the USA’s western Pacific coast, to Maryland on the Atlantic. During the ride, participants climb 175,000 feet and cross 12 states.

According to organisers:

“Competitors are pushed through the pain barrier time and again, as they cover extreme terrain and endure hostile climes.”

The team of eight riders being supported by Prof Shearer range in age from their mid-20s to their late 50s, and include serving military personnel and veterans with a range of psychological and physical challenges. They will work together as a team, cycling in day and night shifts, to complete the journey in just nine days.

“The research is studying the impact of extreme physical challenge during the race itself, during the training and preparation before it, and then for a 12-month period afterwards,” explained Prof Shearer.

“Many participants taking part in such extreme challenges get what is often known as ‘post-expedition blues’, but, with the right support, the hope is that such challenges can develop a positive mindset and a provide a greater degree of resilience for daily life.”

Prof Shearer has worked with the team members to collect baseline measurements for the study, and their progress is being monitored to see if they have gained, through the event, any tangible benefits and transferable skills they can use in other parts of their lives, such as employment and education.

Prof Shearer is advising Leadership Challenges on the research processes and will be supporting the Mind Over Matter Team during the event. One of the team’s major aims, according to its founder and captain, Major Sally Orange, is to raise awareness of mental health.

“USW has developed a strong relationship with the military, and we hope that working with Leadership Challenges and advising them on their research will lead the way for future projects,” he said.

“By understanding more about the effects of this type of challenge on mental health, we hope to help Leadership Challenges develop ways that events, such as the Race Across America, can improve resilience and have lasting positive benefits.”