Academic Staff

Dr Valerie Gladwell Chair of HEAL research group, Year 2 Organiser (part-time)

Position in departmentResearch Group Convenor (Health, Exercise & Active Lifestyle)
Staff positionSenior Lecturer in Sports & Exercise Science
Telephone01206 873821

Career Resumé

Posts & Training

I joined the Centre for Sports & Exercise Science within the School of Biological Sciences in September 2000 as a Lecturer in Sports Science. I studied for my PhD entitled "Reflex mechanisms eliciting the changes in heart rate caused by isometric exercise" under the guidance of Professor John Coote in the Medical School at the University of Birmingham. I gained my PhD in 2001. Prior to this I studied for my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science also at the University of Birmingham.

Supervision of research students

I have successfully supervised five PhD  and several Masters by research. I am currently supervising two further PhD students  and a Masters by Research.

Personal bit

I am a Northerner - not that you can tell that from my accent. I was born and brought up in Northumberland before moving to University of Birmingham to do my Bachelor in Medical Science and my PhD in Physiology. My PhD had lots of great bits to it, but the best by far was meeting my husband who had the same supervisor, Professor John Coote! After securing my job at University of Essex, Simon followed me to Suffolk (where coincidentally his parents live)

I am a mother of 3  children, working part-time (although now up to 4 days) and  try and get that balance between home and work! 

I like to play hard though enjoying many physical pursuits including walking, cycling, swimming and running. Running is my main love and I have been competitive since I was about 11 years old. I appear in several UK rankings from when I was younger, representing Scotland (as I have many roots in Scotland including a Scottish mum,  and I lived there for a bit too). I manage to get out for a run most days with my lovely Springer Spaniel aptly named Bolt. We have just got a lovely new Cocker Spaniel called Barnaby and he will be running with me soon. 

I broke my leg in May 2015 and have gradually getting back into training but not quite sure what my next challenge is. Maybe another open water swimming challenge or cycling (although my eldest is nearly too quick for me now!). My children are all active and enjoy rubgy, cricket, swimming, athletics, cycling, cross-country and triathlon.

I am  a Level 2 cricket coach and I am Junior Chair of our local cricket club, Hadleigh. My aim is inspire children, particularly girls to achieve all they can in sport. I have successfully coached 6 girls up to County Standard. In Summer 2016, I received the English Cricket Board Coach Awards: Outstanding Contribution for all the work that I do for cricket coaching.

I have recently set up a Ladies team for Hadleigh Cricket Club and we start playing matches in Oct 2016!

I am also an Activator coach for rugby and enjoy coaching the boys and girls (uU9s) at my local club.


Additional qualifications:

In 2000, I became qualified in Sports Massage (VCTC) at North Birmingham College, Birmingham.

I also am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Current research

Research Interests

My research interests are currently focused in the following areas:

  1. Physical activity for health
  2. Green Exercise
  3. Breaking up Sedentary Time
  4. Cardiovascular Physiology
  5. Workplace wellbeing

With increasing rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, we need new approaches to both prevention and rehabilitation following major diseases without the side-effects of drug intervention and the direct cost of pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, improving general health and well-being would reduce the financial burden that accompanies ill-health and the care of these individuals including days off sick. Therefore my overarching theme to get individuals to enage with physical activity particularly those of a working populations who have increased pressures in the workplace and increasing sedentary time.

Physical activity has been shown to improve both physiological and psychological well-being, as well as reductions in obesity and cardiovascular disease. There are, however, important cultural and other barriers to physical activity to overcome particularly the use of green environments. Therefore perceptions, accessibility and attitudes to physical activity need to be assessed. Adherence to exercise (through enjoyment) and the support of employers is vital, if physical activity, in particular if "Green Exercise", is to be implemented as an effective therapy.

I am currently the principal investigator for physiology in "Green Exercise". The research is interdisciplinary with links within the School and within the University. 

In 2009 I  was awarded a prestigious ESRC interdisciplinary career personal fellowship (£300,000)- Green Exercise: The combination of physical activity in a natural environment

The work conducted built on my innovative expertise in the area of autonomic control and on work that I have conducted on recovery from exercise and stress; in addition, it will build on the expertise in "Green Exercise" that currently exists in the School, which to date has focussed on psychological measures."Green Exercise" could be used as a powerful tool to help fight the growing incidence of cardiovascular disease. The synergistic combination of exercise and exposure to nature could help supplement current expensive drug-based therapies. Furthermore, adherence to exercise might improve. We aim to highlight the physiological changes that result from an interaction between the environment and exercise and also the impact "green exercise" has on our health and well-being. Thus, "Green Exercise" may be possible to use a simple and inexpensive and yet powerful tool to improve the quality of life of many individuals and to reduce costs of health care.

I was also awarded a British Heart Foundation PhD studentship in 2010 and Daniel Brown  successful completed his PhD in the area of Green Exercise.

The research is concentrated on the working population. Working life incorporates everyday stressful situations. As stress is one of the triggers of acute CVD, this project investigates whether exposure to natural environments at lunch-time with or without exercise can help reduce reaction to stress. We will examine  the acute responses to stress after exposure to different environment). We will also investigate if there are alterations in response to stress  where participants are undertake exercise several times a week for 8 weeks. This project examines not only physiological and psychological responses but also examines biochemical changes that are occuring in the body in response to stress. We are mainly looking at cortisol (which is found in saliva) but will also be investigating changes in alpha-amylase.

I am also interested in investigating breaking up sedentary time with physical activity in short bouts by using calisthenics. This has shown to improve vascular function and now investigating other benefits including balance and proprioception. (MSc student investigating).

Workplace health and wellbeing is also a key interest: have conducted several studies in businesses and have helped improved their health and wellbeing. Awarded Bronze Chairman’s award (2012) (BAE Systems) in the category of ‘Supporting our Total Performance Culture Category. Also part of the University of Essex team that was awarded for the University of Essex Highly Commended for Workplace Health for the Business in the Community (East of England). I also supported my husband's company in winning the East Anglia Daily Times Health and Wellbeing award 2014. I am also worked with other local companies including Copella and Essex County Council.

Current research students

Elliott Flowers

Robert Southall-Edwards

John Wooller

Research interests

My research interests are currently focused in the following areas:

  1. Physical activity for health
  2. Green Exercise
  3. Breaking up Sedentary Time
  4. Cardiovascular Physiology
  5. Workplace wellbeing

My Skills: project, grant and people management with specific research skills in survey methodology, physiological and biochemical analysis, psychological and social methods.

Tools include:

  • Physical activity monitoring using accelerometers, wireless devices, physical activity monitoring apps and pedometers.
  • Cardiovascular measurements: the mechanisms that control the system during and post-exercise and stress; the use of ECG to assess heart rate variability as an indication of autonomic control. The assessment of continuous blood pressure including overnight recordings. Also vascular measures using ultrasound to explore endothelial function.
  • Biochemical monitoring: including performing assays for salivary cortisol and amylase.
  • The use of questionnaires

Teaching responsibilities


Currently I am Module leader for Health and Lifestyle,  Sports Injuries and Exercise Rehabilitation and provide teaching and practicals in Anatomy and Physiology.

In 2016, I received the University's Excellence in Teaching Award.

PublicationsLink to publications for Valerie Gladwell
Additional information

Women in science

I am passionate about empowering women especially in science but also through sport. I am part of the Universities empowering women steering group, University Athena Swan group and the School of Biological Sciences Athena Swan team (we successfully acheieved bronze in 2015). I am also academic lead for Women in Science.

Knowledge transfer

This is becoming a very important aspect in the everyday role of scientist. It is crucial that we communicate with the public about our work as researchers. I am committed to the public understanding of science and regularly take the chance to explain my research to wider audiences. I am currently undergoing training on knowledge transfer and was invited to attend the conference "Engaging with the Public Sector" sponsored by the ESRC.

ESRC Impact Acceleration fund

  • Recently I have been awarded a Secondment Award from the ESRC for a one of research fellows to be seconded to ukactive.
  • I also received funding from the ESRC Active Engagment Fund.

The Physiological Society

I am a member of  The Physiological Society and I am the academic lead of a National Science competition (The Science of Life), where school pupils undertake research projects and then if successful present them at a real scientific conference. I am also the Physiological Representative in the School of Biological Sciences. I have been involved in producing a publication entitled "Understanding Life" which is available to schools.

The Big Bang Festival

I was invited by The Physiological Society to produce a interactive exhibit for the Big Bang Festival in Manchester in 2010. We used a Wii and a bike to simulate a "Winter Biathlon" and even had the GB coach for Winter Biathlon attend. The stand was always busy and with the help of ADInstruments we were able to communicate to the children what happens to heart rate and breathing during exercise and a skill based task. This has run at several Big Bangs since and other local festivals.

Women in Science - mentoring scheme for women:

Only a small proportion of the academics in Science Subjects at Senior Level or above are women. I believe that it is vital that we reduce the barriers to women that exist that inhibit the progression of their scientific career. We must try and provide mechanisms to help maintain retention of women, allowing them to maximise their potential.

Wellcome Trust

In 2012 I worked with the Wellcome Trust to provide experimental physiology kits for every school in the country. and I was an expert for the boxes. This also involved producing a Live show to explain Physiology which toured the UK.

Fit 4 life day (April 2008):

This initiative was a knowledge transfer day engaging the public to allow them to find out more about healthy lifestyle and exercise. It was sponsored by The Physiological Society and was aimed at the general public and secondary school children. There were information sessions (from internal and external speakers), laboratory based practicals (in collaboration with University of Bristol), meetings with sporting stars (Anne Wafula-Strike, Dominic King), interactive sessions to test fitness and health and even "have a go" sports sessions from local sports clubs and organisations from Tai Chi, Boxing, Karate through to Frisbee Golf. We also used the University’s climbing wall. Several companies were involved. Concept II provided an exciting interactive rowing competition, where we tried to row to the Olympic village (virtually). Free cholesterol testing was carried out by Point of Care Services; whilst locally based Crouch Street Physiotherapists gave free injury advice. Some free samples of food were also available including apple juice from local company Copella and tasty healthy snacks from Pepsico. We also ran a raffle in aid of the British Heart Foundation. The meeting was held on 3 sites across the University of Essex campus and attracted over 250 participants.

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