Exploring the public health potential of RED January, a social media campaign supporting physical activity in the community for mental health: A qualitative study
Wheatley C., Glogowska M., Stathi A., Sexton C., Johansen-Berg H., Mackay C.
Statement of problem: RED January is an annual social media campaign challenging individuals to be physically active every day during January, and highlighting the potential for improvements in mood and wellbeing. Our aim was to explore elements of the challenge that motivate engagement with, and sustained participation in, physical activity for mental health. Method: RED January registrants (n = 55,772, female = 45,802; 82%) were invited to take part. Volunteers supplied information on sex, age band and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in the past week. Forty registrants (24 female), recruited in December 2019 using a purposive sampling approach to identify a maximum-variation sample, participated in semi-structured interviews (31 face-to-face) after completing the challenge. The resulting transcripts were thematically analysed, using the Framework method. Results: Two main themes relating to motivation were identified. ‘Pleasure’ referred to how daily activity promoted physical enjoyment and positive affective states via engaging with the environment, finding mental space and peace, and enjoyable social interactions. ‘Purpose’ referred to the experiences of engaging with the campaign, and observed changes in health outcomes. These included setting flexible and appropriate goals, measuring and reviewing progress, noting wider biological and behavioural changes, and receiving support from the social media community. Points for consideration were feelings of failure when not achieving self-imposed targets, the unintended facilitation of obsessive exercising, and social media posts that triggered negative thoughts among a minority of participants. Conclusions: Findings suggest RED January may have potential as a public health resource. The challenge might not suit individuals with severe disorders.