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RGU mental wellbeing team raise Smiles for Miles in Step Count Challenge


A team of mental health academics from Robert Gordon University (RGU) have raised over 18,000 smiles in a unique sponsored walk as part of the Step Count Challenge programme. 

Dr Steve SmithInga Heyman, Billy Ridler, Dan Warrender, Scott Macpherson and Dr Steve Smith took part in the eight-week challenge which was organised this spring by the university’s Fit for the Future initiative and involved several teams from across campus.

Not content with just getting healthier themselves, the group asked fellow staff members to sponsor them with Smiles for Miles.

The aim was simple; the team mapped out a musical virtual journey, taking them from the site of the old Morrison Hotel on South Hope Street, Los Angeles (featured on the cover of the 1970 Doors album of the same name) to the Grateful Dead House on Ashbury Street, San Francisco (the home several members of the Grateful Dead shared between 1966 and 1968). 

In return for regular updates on their ‘journey’ colleagues who sponsored the trip were asked to smile at people in the ratio of at least one smile per mile.

Team leader, Dr Steve Smith, said: “We said to people, ‘we want you to smile at people, smiling is good for your wellbeing, and possibly even commit random acts of kindness occasionally, and we will keep you up to date with a weekly email of where we are and who we may possibly, or even impossibly have met.

“A number of colleagues wanted to donate money, but we were really keen that people should be smiling at each other, and even being kind or helpful.

“The ideas behind it aren’t rocket-science. We spend so much of our time locked into our own agendas and our own emotions that we can easily lose touch with each other. 

“When we smile at someone, or do something for another person, we get so much more back in terms of being connected to a network of other people in a real and tangible sense.”

Over the course of the eight-week challenge the team not only ‘made it’ to San Francisco, they kept going and headed East towards Reno and Salt Lake City.

Dr Smith said: “Once we had walked the distance to San Francisco, Scott suggested changing the mood a little and heading towards Folsom and Reno; Johnny Cash country.  So we charted our way in that direction and eventually decided to change the mood again and keep on going towards Salt Lake City; home of the Osmond’s. What can I say; we never made it!”

The team walked a total of 2,266,826 steps and raised a total of 18,804 smiles. 

Bizarrely, the last day of the virtual journey saw the team ‘arrive’ at the small desert town of Oasis, Nevada, whereupon they hit their Wonderwall in a Champagne Supernova.  A fitting end to a fanciful, if serious, journey.

Mental Health Lecturer, Inga Heyman, said: “We wanted people to see that mental wellbeing has nothing to do with Mental Illness and that we all benefit from smiling and being connected. 

“Not only is a physically active workforce more productive, but taking the time to notice how we are feeling, and to find a reason to smile, improves the wellbeing of all of us. 

“We have thoroughly enjoyed this challenge, and we would challenge other colleagues, and other organisations in Aberdeen, to beat our total of raising nearly 19,000 smiles when the challenge recommences in October.”

Posted by
Ross AndersonCommunications Officer | Health and Sport