Increasing physical activity levels among frail older adults: studying optimal implementation and mechanisms through which benefits occur

Supervised by Dr Katrien Segaert and Dr Sam Lucas together with Dr Kieran Breen from St Andrew’s Healthcare

To apply for this project, please include ‘Segaert & St Andrew’s Healthcare’ as the project descriptor in the subject heading of your email. 

The project will examine how to best increase physical activity levels among frail older adults. Regular physical exercise has been shown to attenuate age-related physiological decline, reduce disease risk, improve cognition and brain health, and improve quality of life.  However, a significant proportion of older adults fail to meet the minimum recommended levels of physical activity. The WHO recommends supporting guidance and implementation tools focussed on those who need physical activity the most, including frail older adults, and highlights the importance of strong healthcare, community, and policymaker partnerships to achieve this. The present PhD studentship project aims to follow these recommendations, in a partnership between the University of Birmingham and St Andrew’s Healthcare. 

Specifically, the project will involve long-term wellbeing, cognitive and brain health (i.e. vascular health) measures of healthy community-dwelling older adults. In addition, it will involve development and implementation of an exercise intervention in an inpatient facility of St Andrew’s, with older adults who are more frail and with greater functional/physical impairments than community-dwelling older adults. Efficacy of the intervention will be established through questionnaire, mental health, and cognitive health assessments. 

Essential skills: We are looking for a highly talented and dedicated student with a 1st class or 2:1 Bsc degree in the field of Sport and Exercise Science or a related discipline. Degrees in psychology or neuroscience will be considered if the student can demonstrate extra-curricular interests/expertise in sport and exercise science. We are looking for someone with relevant academic or non-academic expertise relevant to the research project, excellent English language skills, strong organisation and time-management skills, someone who is flexible with a positive problem-solving attitude and strong teamwork skills. 

An MSc degree in a relevant area is desirable though not necessary. Other desirable skills: Experience with questionnaire, cognitive performance or brain health assessments; Programming skills (MATLAB, Python, R or similar); Knowledge of general statistics for data analysis; Experience working with communities or older adults.

These are skills that will be required to complete the PhD - we will consider applicants who do not yet have these skills but are highly motivated to learn them during the project. 

We are keen to recruit PhD students from under-represented groups, for example, home students who identify as BAME or those who grew up or went to school in an area where young people are less likely to enter higher education. 

Informal enquiries about the project prior to application can be directed to Dr. Sam Lucas:, Dr. Katrien Segaert:, Prof. Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten: (University of Birmingham), Dr. Kieran Breen: (St. Andrew’s Healthcare)