photo: Elena Iourtaeva
The Faculty’s research activities got an early boost in 2013 as newly-hired assistant professor Kelly Arbour-Nicitopoulos hit the ground running. With a wide range of interests and a term free of teaching, Arbour-Nicitopoulos is firmly focused on several research projects while helping to build critical mass in exercise psychology and behaviour expertise.
Formerly a post-doctoral fellow in the Faculty, Arbour-Nicitopoulos will regroup with Professor Guy Faulkner on a CIHR-funded study of physical activity and adults with schizophrenia. The ultimate goal is to identify the best interventions for this group, but the aim of the current study is to determine what motivates individuals with schizophrenia to be active. “We know physical activity in this population is very low, but it’s so important for them,” observes Arbour-Nicitopoulos. “We’re trying to develop a measure that will look at the strongest predictors of physical activity that will then allow us to work with health professionals in hospitals and within the community to develop programs to increase physical activity levels.” The work has so far involved intensive patient interviews, which will be followed up with a study of a larger group through questionnaires and accelerometer use. “We want to measure the link between their thoughts about physical activity their behaviour,” says Arbour-Nicitopoulos. “That’s the first step to ideally doing a larger study that looks at physical activity interventions for this group.”
Arbour-Nicitopoulos’s interest in populations that may face more challenges to being active extends to another area – people with physical disabilities. Prior to rejoining U of T, her work at McMaster focused on patients with spinal cord injuries. Through her involvement with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Action Canada, Arbour-Nicitopoulos leads a telephone-based physical activity counselling service called Get In Motion, a free service that gives adults with SCI access to a counsellor for a six-month period. The initiative has both service and research components. “We’ve done a lot of research into predictors of physical activity in this group; we’ve tested interventions, and now we need to get them out to the user. That’s really what Get In Motion tries to do.” To date over 100 people across Ontario have accessed the service; the goal now is to extend the reach across Canada, particularly in British Columbia and Alberta. In conjunction with the counselling, Arbour-Nicitopoulos lead the development of a physical activity toolkit that has been distributed to over 10,000 people across the country – something Arbour-Nicitopoulos would now like to evaluate. “We need to determine if people are actually using the toolkit and how we can enhance it.”
Taking her disability research in a new direction, Arbour-Nicitopoulos is building bridges with the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Centre to increase physical activities opportunities for children with disabilities. “I want to do some work with children and adolescents with disabilities, and Bloorview has a fabulous facility and research program that I would love to tap into.” A new mother herself, with a seven-month-old daughter at home, Arbour-Nicitopoulos sees an opportunity to marry her new personal passion with her professional interests. “We want to engage and promote physical activity levels in this group by determining what children want, as well as what parents want for their children.”
In addition to special populations, Arbour-Nicitopoulos is interested in changing behaviours in the broader population to promote disease prevention. Another collaboration with Guy Faulkner is a project funded by Cancer Care Ontario to develop a website called Rise@work, an initiative aimed at reducing sedentary behaviour among office employees. “Even if we’re active in other parts of our day or week, we need to remember how important it is for our health to get up from behind our desks during the day.”
Teaming up with Faulkner – the Faculty’s most well-established behavioural expert – along with recently-hired associate professor Catherine Sabiston, Arbour-Nicitopoulos is excited about the potential to grow this important research area. “Guy and I have had great collaborations in the past, and I’m looking forward to working with Cathi. The three of us will make a really strong team.”