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UEL helps Virgin's Holly Branson prepare for epic endurance challenge

UEL staff provided Holly, daughter of Sir Richard Branson, with science-based fitness planning

Dr Holly Branson, daughter of billionaire entrepreneur and businessman Sir Richard Branson, recently dropped by the University of East London’s (UEL) physiology lab for help with training for an epic challenge later this year. 

On 2 May, Holly teamed up with UEL’s Dr Andy Galbraith, a senior lecturer in Exercise Physiology, and other staff to get some quality sport science insights as she ramps up her training for the month-long Virgin STRIVE Challenge at the end of August.

The challenge, which aims to raise £1 million for the young people’s charity Big Change, will see Holly and other competitors walk, hike, cycle, and kayak across Sardinia and Corsica into southern France, finishing with a climb up Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest peak. 

Holly said, “The team at the University of East London’s physiology lab really put me through my paces, but it was definitely worth getting some science and advice to support my fitness plan for the Virgin STRIVE Challenge.”

Holly completed running tasks on a treadmill while Dr Galbraith and team took blood samples from her finger at intervals.

The samples were used to measure blood lactate, which is a substance that builds up in your blood during exercise. As the intensity of exercise increases, so does the build-up of blood lactate, making it a useful guide in determining which exercise intensities are maintainable for prolonged durations. 

Holly also wore a face mask which allowed Dr Galbraith to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that she was breathing out during exercise  - an indicator of how well Holly's body was coping with the demands of exercise.

Commenting on Holly’s performance, Dr Galbraith said, “She did well, and is clearly in good shape. She shouldn’t have any fitness problems. 

“We’ll do an in-depth analysis of her blood samples and changes in expired gases and discuss those with her. It means she has some scientific base lines to measure her progress, and we can give her a guide in terms of ideal heart rates and endurance.” 

Dr Galbraith, who did his PhD in the physiology of endurance running and is himself a keen runner, lectures on UEL’s BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science and MSc Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences. He also provides specialist insight to UEL’s sports scholars, who compete at a national and international level. 

Holly was a qualified junior doctor with the NHS before joining Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin brand. She is the current chair of Virgin Unite, as well as the founder of Big Change and one of its trustees.

She recently published her first book, WEconomy: You Can Find Meaning, Make A Living, and Change the World, to inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs.