Dr Sally A. M. Fenton PhD

Dr Sally A. M. Fenton

School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
Associate Professor in Lifestyle Behaviour Change

Contact details

School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr. Sally Fenton an Associate Professor in Lifestyle Behaviour Change. Her research is focused on the development, delivery and evaluation of theory-based interventions to promote physical activity, with a emphasis on clinical populations. Dr. Fenton also has expertise in the application of device-based assessments of physical activity and sedentary behaviour (e.g. accelerometers, commercial wearables) as an intervention tool, and to evaluate intervention efficacy.


  • 2008 - BSc, Sport and Exercise Sciences (University of Birmingham, UK)
  • 2014 - PhD, Sport and Exercise Psychology (University of Birmingham, UK)


Dr. Fenton obtained both her BSc (2008) and PhD (2014) from the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham. After completing her PhD, she was appointed to the role of Post-doctoral Research Fellow, and worked jointly across the University of Birmingham and the Dudley NHS Foundation Trust on projects related to physical activity and sedentary behavior change in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Sally was appointed to the role of Lecture in Lifestyle Behaviour Change in October 2017, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2021. Recently, Dr. Fenton has been awarded an NIHR Advanced Fellowship, which she will undertake until November 2027 (MISSION-RA, NIHR301660).


Dr. Fenton currently contributes to the Year 1 module Sport, Exercise and Health Psychology, which is delivered across several BSc programmes in the School of Sport and Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences. She also contributes to several other modules in the School, delivering teaching in the areas of; 1) physical activity behavior change and, 2) measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Postgraduate supervision

PhD – Florentia Kitas – Primary supervisor (October 2023 – present), “Developing an intervention to reduce sedentary behaviour among people living with RA” (Funder - NIHR Birmingham BRC).

PhD – Joanne Barrett – Primary supervisor (October 2023 – present), “The MoreLife with CF Study” (Funder – NIHR Doctoral Training Fellowship)

PhD - Saleh Elmsmari – Second supervisor (January 2020 – present), “Physical activity and fatigue in Rheumatoid Arthritis” (International scholarship/funding)

PhD - Marilyn Poole - Second supervisor (June 2019 – present), “Sedentary behaviour change in non-ambulant young children” (Funder – NIHR Doctoral Training Fellowship)

PhD - Sophia Brady- Primary supervisor  (2018 – 2022), “Physical activity vs. sedentary behaviour interventions in RA” (Funder – MRC- Versus Arthritis Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research) 

PhD - Ciara O’Brien - Primary supervisor (2015 – 2019), “Applying the Behavioural Epidemiology Framework to investigate sedentary behaviour and physical activity in Rheumatoid Arthritis” (Funder – Rheumatology Research Fund, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust)


  • Device-based measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour, ranging from research grade to commercial wearables
  • The determinants and health consequences of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in patient populations
  • Development and evaluation of theoretically-informed lifestyle interventions to encourage behaviour change, including those employing digital technologies (e.g. apps, wearables)

Dr. Sally Fenton’s research aims to validate device-based measures of physical activity and sedentary behaviour (accelerometers, posture sensors), to investigate the role of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in health and disease. To date, she has conducted a series of studies aligned with this theme, among children, older adults, and patient groups – with a recent focus on people living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Findings from this research are applied to inform the development, implementation and evaluation of theoretically-informed interventions to encourage physical activity and sedentary behaviour change. Currently, Dr. Fenton is involved in several projects that aim to deliver motivation-theory grounded interventions to promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior among clinical populations, including patients awaiting liver transplant, with lung cancer and people living with Arthritis. She is also a member of the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) “sarcopenia and multi-morbidity theme”, leading research focussed on developing behaviour change interventions to increase movement and reduce sitting time in BRC cohorts.

Dr. Fenton has recently been awarded an NIHR Advanced Fellowship, the MovIng to Support Sustained Improvement of Outomes iN Rheumatoid Arthritis (MISSION-RA) project (NIHR 310660). Her fellowship aims to demonstrate proof of concept in novel intervention development methods/frameworks, by bringing together; 1) theory and evidence-based intervention development methods with, 2) cutting-edge data science, to develop a digital behaviour change intervention to support physical activity in people living with RA.

Other activities

Dr. Fenton is member of the following international networks, consortia and committees:

  1. The PROspective Physical Activity Sitting and Sleep (PROPASS) working group – a team of international experts advancing device-based measures of movement behaviour
  2. The European League Against Rheumatism, (EULAR) IMplementation of Physical Activity into routine Clinical pracTice in Rheumatic Musculoskeletal Disease (IMPACT-RMD) consortium (behaviour change lead) – a team of European experts and patient organisations developing an evidence-based physical activity implementation framework for use in clinical practice (2018 – present)
  3. The European College of Sport Science (ECSS) Scientific Committee (2023 – present)
Dr Fenton was also a member of Chief Medical Officers Expert Committee(s) for; 1) reviewing and updating the UK Physical Activity Guidelines in September 2019 (Sedentary behaviour working group), and 2) Surveillance of the 2019 Physical Activity Guidelines (January 2020 – June 2021).


Recent publications


Stathi, A, Withall, J, Crone, D, Hawley-Hague, H, Playle, R, Frew, E, Fenton, S, Hillsdon, M, Pugh, C, Todd, C, Jolly, K, Cavill, N, Western, M, Roche, S, Kirby, N, Boulton, E, Thompson, J, Chatwin, K, Davies, A, Szekeres, Z & Greaves, C 2023, 'A peer-volunteer led active ageing programme to prevent decline in physical function in older people at risk of mobility disability (Active, Connected, Engaged [ACE]): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial', Trials, vol. 24, no. 1, 772. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-023-07758-3

Brady, SM, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS, Dinas, PC, Nightingale, TE, Metsios, GS, Elmsmari, SMA, Duda, JL, Kitas, GD & Fenton, SAM 2023, 'Effects of lifestyle physical activity and sedentary behaviour interventions on disease activity and patient- and clinician- important health outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review with meta-analysis', BMC Rheumatology, vol. 7, no. 1, 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41927-023-00352-9

Willett, M, Rushton, A, Stephens, G, Fenton, S, Rich, S, Greig, C & Duda, J 2023, 'Feasibility of a theoretically grounded, multicomponent, physiotherapy intervention aiming to promote autonomous motivation to adopt and maintain physical activity in patients with lower-limb osteoarthritis: protocol for a single-arm trial', Pilot and Feasibility Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, 54. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40814-023-01274-6

The BIOFLARE Consortium 2023, 'Number of days required to measure sedentary time and physical activity using accelerometery in rheumatoid arthritis: a reliability study', Rheumatology International, vol. 43, no. 8, pp. 1459-1465. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00296-023-05342-1

Wood, G, Goodyear, V, Adab, P, Al-Janabi, H, Fenton, S, Jones, K, Michail, M, Morrison, B, Patterson, P, Sitch, A, Wade, M & Pallan, M 2023, 'Smartphones, social Media and Adolescent mental well-being: the impact of school policies Restricting dayTime use-protocol for a natural experimental observational study using mixed methods at secondary schools in England (SMART Schools Study)', BMJ open, vol. 13, no. 7, e075832. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2023-075832

Brady, SM, Georgopoulos, V, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS, Duda, JL, Metsios, GS, Kitas, GD, Fenton, SAM, Walsh, DA & McWilliams, DF 2023, 'The interrater and test-retest reliability of 3 modalities of quantitative sensory testing in healthy adults and people with chronic low back pain or rheumatoid arthritis', PAIN Reports, vol. 8, no. 6, e1102. https://doi.org/10.1097/PR9.0000000000001102

O'Brien, CM, Duda, JL, Kitas, GD, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS, Metsios, GS & Fenton, SAM 2022, 'Autonomous motivation to reduce sedentary behaviour is associated with less sedentary time and improved health outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis: a longitudinal study', BMC Rheumatology, vol. 6, no. 1, 58, pp. 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41927-022-00289-5

Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS, Fenton, SAM, Rouse, PC, Ntoumanis, N, Osailan, A, Yu, C-A, Metsios, GS, Kitas, GD & Duda, JL 2021, 'Autonomous motivation, cardiorespiratory fitness, and exercise in rheumatoid arthritis: Randomised controlled trial', Psychology of Sport and Exercise, vol. 55, 101904. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2021.101904

Rayner, F, Anderson, AE, Baker, KF, Buckley, C, Dyke, B, Fenton, S, Filer, A, Goodyear, CS, Hilkens, C, Hiu, S, Kerrigan, S, Kurowska-Stolarska, M, Matthews, FE, McInnes, IB, Ng, W-F, Pratt, AG, Prichard, J, Raza, K, Siebert, S, Stocken, D, Teare, MD, Young, S & Isaacs, JD 2021, 'BIOlogical Factors that Limit sustAined Remission in rhEumatoid arthritis (the BIO-FLARE study): protocol for a non-randomised longitudinal cohort study', BMC Rheumatology, vol. 5, no. 22, 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41927-021-00194-3

O'Brien, CM, Ntoumanis, N, Duda, JL, Kitas, GD, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS, Metsios, GS & Fenton, SAM 2021, 'Pain and fatigue are longitudinally and bi-directionally associated with more sedentary time and less standing time in rheumatoid arthritis', Rheumatology (Oxford, England), vol. 60, no. 10, keab029, pp. 4548-4557. https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/keab029

Nightingale, TE, Heneghan, N, Fenton, S, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J & Jutzeler, CR 2021, 'Physical activity and health-related quality of life in adults with a neurologically-related mobility disability during the COVID-19 pandemic: an exploratory analysis', Frontiers in neurology, vol. 12, 699884. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.699884

IMPACT-RMD Consortium 2021, 'Position statement on exercise dosage in rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases: the role of the IMPACT-RMD toolkit', Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 378-385. https://doi.org/10.31138/mjr.32.4.378

Review article

Fenton, SAM, O'Brien, CM, Kitas, GD, Duda, JL, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, JJCS & Metsios, GS 2023, 'The behavioural epidemiology of sedentary behaviour in inflammatory arthritis: where are we, and where do we need to go?', Rheumatology Advances in Practice, vol. 7, no. 1, rkac097. https://doi.org/10.1093/rap/rkac097

Pulsford, RM, Brocklebank, L, Fenton, SAM, Bakker, E, Mielke, GI, Tsai, L-T, Atkin, AJ, Harvey, DL, Blodgett, JM, Ahmadi, M, Wei, L, Rowlands, A, Doherty, A, Rangul, V, Koster, A, Sherar, LB, Holtermann, A, Hamer, M & Stamatakis, E 2023, 'The impact of selected methodological factors on data collection outcomes in observational studies of device-measured physical behaviour in adults: A systematic review', The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity , vol. 20, no. 1, 26. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-022-01388-9

Working paper

Goodyear, V, Boardley, I, Chiou, S-Y, Fenton, S, Makopoulou, K, Stathi, A, Wallis, G, Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J, Wood, G & Thompson, J 2021 'Guidelines for using social media to inform behaviours related to physical activity, diet and quality of life' University of Birmingham. https://doi.org/10.25500/epapers.bham.00003431

View all publications in research portal