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Julia Browne, a graduate student in Clinical Psychology, is the recipient of a 2017 Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Award.

The longstanding Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Award recognizes discoveries with a direct impact on our state in the present time. Doctoral and master’s students, working in close collaboration with their faculty mentors, pursue promising new ideas. They then apply their new knowledge to improving human health, strengthening communities, and creating greater understanding of our world’s biggest challenges.

Julia Browne won a GEAB Impact Award for her project, “Increasing Walking Among People with Schizophrenia.” Statistics indicate that people with schizophrenia have a life expectancy up to 25 years shorter than people in the general population. This premature mortality often results from preventable causes, such as physical inactivity. Julia conducted a study with the goal of creating a cost-effective and accessible exercise intervention for North Carolinians with schizophrenia. She first met with 14 individuals with schizophrenia and 12 treating clinicians to discuss barriers to exercise and best strategies for increasing exercise. Both groups identified walking as the most accessible and favorable form of exercise and noted the benefits of a group-based program. They also made recommendations to enhance motivation and compensate for barriers; recommendations included the use of pedometers and having a time for “after walk sharing.”

Julia and her research team then created Work Out by Walking (WOW), which featured walking groups, pedometer use, social interaction, goal-setting, daily contact with research staff, feedback on progress and financial incentives. The 10-week program was offered to 16 individuals with schizophrenia who were receiving treatment at a local community mental health center. Participants experienced notable improvement in their activity level, mental and physical health, quality of life and perceived social support.

Julia and her mentor David Penn, Ph.D., partnered with UNC-Chapel Hill exercise physiology expert Claudio Battaglini, Ph.D., and psychiatrist Fred Jarskog, M.D., to develop an enhanced version of WOW. The updated intervention was tested at the same clinic in Fall 2016. Julia’s continuing work provides a promising and innovative approach to exercise and may help North Carolinians with schizophrenia lead longer and more fulfilling lives.

Read more about the 2017 Impact Awards online.

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