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Centre for Active Lifestyles Studentships


Centre for Active Lifestyles

A longitudinal study exploring social and environmental influences on children’s physical activity during the transition from primary to secondary school

The advantages of physical activity (PA) to young people are widely publicised and present psychological, sociological and physiological benefits to those who regularly engage in PA (Boreham and Riddoch, 2001; Warburton et al., 2006). The health risks of a sedentary and inactive lifestyle are also undeniably clear, with physical inactivity accounting for approximately 6 percent of deaths globally, making it the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Furthermore, PA is crucial in tackling childhood obesity levels as it provides the backbone of total energy expenditure, and is vital in youth attaining a healthy weight status through achieving a balance between energy intake and energy output.

Research has indicated that young people’s physical activity (PA) levels often significantly decline during the transition from primary school to secondary school (Nader et al., 2008; Townsend et al., 2012; Boreham and Riddoch, 2001). Whilst psychological and physiological factors have been explored (Niven et al., 2009; Davison et al., 2007), little is known about how the change in the built environment may contribute to a decline in PA during the transition from primary to secondary school. In order to promote or maintain PA levels in youth, it is important that young people are provided with the opportunities to be active within their surrounding social and physical environment. Many people in today’s society live in obesogenic environments which play a key role in promoting weight gain by encouraging inactivity or poor diet.

Swinburn et al (2011) stated that obesity is the outcome of people responding normally to the surrounding obesogenic environment in which they live.

This research project will explore the environmental and social influences on young people’s PA levels in a longitudinal research project, tracking young people’s PA and lifestyle habits from late Key Stage 2 into early Key Stage 3.

Please contact Dr Peter Collins for further details
Email: P.Collins@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8123638
Do physically active lessons, integrated with learning, enhance self-control in young children?
This research will assess the impact of physical activity (PA) on self-control, a component of executive function, in young children.  The research will complement two current areas of work in Active Lifestyles: 1) work within schools assessing the impact of PA on cognitive function and 2) the impact of acute and chronic PA on cognitive function and impulse control in obese children.

The project will explore the acute effect of PA, combined with learning, on self-control in young children.  Low self-control between ages three to 11 is associated with poor health, low wealth, increased risk of substance abuse and less skilled parenting at age 38 (Moffett et al., 2011).  PA could provide a powerful low-cost opportunity to help improve self-control in young children (Diamond, 2012).

A recent review of physically active lessons identifies the need for further research on active learning (Norris et al., 2015).   At present, only a few studies have assessed PA in relation to educational learning, although there are positive lines of evidence.  For example, a recent lab-based study found physically active mathematics enhanced executive function in lower achieving pupils when compared to a typical sedentary maths lesson (Vazou & Smiley-Oyen, 2014).

Desk based methods will be used to identify which segments of the national curriculum may be amenable to the inclusion of PA.  Existing studies confirm that the effect of physically active lessons on self-control can be sensitively assessed through high-quality randomised crossover trials.  Physical activity can also be measured within lessons using high-quality assessment tools. Deploying refined versions of these approaches in the PhD will afford the opportunity to conduct a number of empirically-based studies that will meet our aspiration to contribute translational research.  This will enhance understanding of how PA influences self-control and how PA-based enhancement of self-control may influence classroom behaviour.

Please contact Professor Jim McKenna for further details
Email: J.McKenna@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8127483
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) in the rehabilitation of patients with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) or Chronic Heart Failure (CHF) - exploring efficacy, safety and mechanisms
This project builds on our current research in cardiac rehabilitation (Heartwatch longitudinal study of exercise training and mortality) and our previous research on HIIT in healthy low-risk individuals. HIIT use in healthy and clinical populations has attracted significant attention. Despite the high volume of published research, there are still several unanswered questions around the effective dose, safety and mechanisms of improvement when HIIT is applied in CAD and CHF as part of the rehabilitation process. HIIT has not yet ‘made it’ into the international guidelines for exercise prescription for cardiac rehabilitation.

Recent meta-analyses have demonstrated this training method’s efficacy in improving both cardiovascular and muscle metabolic health in patients. The exact mechanisms responsible for these improvements are not always understood and although authors postulate the manner in which the observed improvements have come about further research at a cellular and molecular level is needed to confirm the active pathways. The actual methodology (and research focus) of this project will be determined once a successful candidate is recruited. It will combine the candidate’s preferences, staff expertise, techniques available through collaborations and availability of funding. We envisage that a combination of some of the following methods may be employed appropriately to answer relevant research questions: cardiopulmonary exercise testing, blood tests (e.g. inflammatory markers, EPCs, disease markers, risk markers), muscle biopsies, immunofluorescence microscopy, near-infrared spectroscopy, endothelial function (FMD) and IMT.


Please contact  Costas Tsakirides for further details
Email: C.Tsakirides@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8124716
Or Professor Carlton Cooke
Email: C.Cooke@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8127484
Investigating the Effectiveness of Behavioural Change Interventions with Sedentary/Inactive Hard-to-Reach/Engage Adults
While the Active People Survey has reported an increase in sport and physical activity (PA) participation, concerns remain on how best to engage hard-to-reach (HTR) sedentary and inactive adults. Special interest is reserved for those participants who do not view their inactivity as problematic and who remain disengaged from PA services. These factors along with other diverse and complex determinants (barriers and facilitators) can combine to influence the process of changing PA behaviour. Deconstructing the process of behaviour change into manageable segments or phases can help our understanding of why there is varied success resulting from PA behaviour change interventions.  It has been argued there is a need for greater understanding of the: (I) phases and sub-phases (segments) of PA behaviour change, (II) the factors/processes which influence changes in behaviour and (III) which interventions are most efficacious in meeting changes in PA phase/sub-phase),  as this could enable more HTR populations to be active. With these points in mind, the purpose of this research is to:

  1. Investigate the effectiveness of behaviour change interventions with sedentary/ inactive HTR adults.
  2. Investigate the process by which the proposed behaviour change interventions are implemented with HTR adults.
  3. Identify the key mediators which facilitate preparedness/improvements in physical activity status by the proposed interventions.
  4. Revisit the theoretical principles and segments (phases) set out in behavioural change models.

Applicants should have an understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methods, physical activity intervention research and appreciate the contribution of a multi-disciplinary approach to research in this area. We would envisage that this research could take place in a number of community schemes with which we are partnered; similarly we would be interested to learn of the views of applicants for how/where this research could be developed.

Please contact Dr Andy Pringle for further details
Email: A.Pringle@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8127409
Keep Active to Manage Occupational Stress in Higher Education
Work-Related Stress (WRS) has become a common and ubiquitous health problem experienced by UK Higher Education (HE) staff (Tytherleigh et al., 2005).  WRS brings impaired physical and mental health, diminished psychological functioning, increased work and social conflicts and poor productivity at work.  The results of this problem range from (i) decreased teaching quality, (ii) poorer interactions with students and colleagues, and (iii) increased working hours and overall workload.  The long term effects of this largely avoidable problem affect individual and collective health and well-being, as well as the academic and the economic performance of individual institutions.  As publicly funded institutes, this is currently a major concern.

Since stress is inevitable in the workplace, it is crucial to design interventions that effectively manage psychological, physiological and organizational outcomes of WRS and that return lost quality of life and workplace performance.  To date, most interventions in this area have relied merely on psychological techniques and used only psychological measures to evaluate the impact of interventions on WRS management.  Hence, they fail to evaluate the effects of interventions on physiological and organizational outcomes of WRS.  Considering that Physical Activity (PA) is associated with improved physical, mental health, coping ability, mood states, cognitive functioning and decreased anxiety, anger, stress and depression, it seems clear that PA can play an important role in managing WRS.  However, the extent of this relationship is unknown at this stage in time.

To further understand this relationship, the current PhD project will investigate the effects of a PA intervention on psychological, physiological and organizational outcomes of WRS among HE staff.  Findings from this holistic project will be transferable to professionals in the fields of PA, exercise and occupational health psychology, as well as being valuable to influence health policies in HE institutes.

Please contact Professor Jim McKenna for further details
Email: J.McKenna@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8127483
Oral nutrient exposure and appetite regulation
Preventing the overconsumption of food represents an important public health priority in order to reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Recent research has demonstrated that an increased duration of oral nutrient exposure can reduce appetite perceptions and accelerate meal termination (de Graaf, 2012 – Physiol Behav 107: 496-501). In this regard, increasing the time spent chewing a meal has been shown to stimulate a reduction in food intake (Zijlstra et al., 2009 – Am J Clin Nutr 90: 269-75). Furthermore, chewing and expectorating a meal from the mouth without ingestion has been demonstrated to reduce appetite and alter the release of appetite-regulating hormones from the gut (Heath et al., 2004 – J Endocrinol 180: 273-81; Smeets et al., 2006 – Br J Nutr 95: 795-801).

This project aims to further investigate the appetite, gut hormone and food intake responses to oral nutrient exposure through a series of acute laboratory experiments. These experiments will provide an opportunity to develop nutritional interventions to reduce appetite and food intake, while also contributing to the mechanistic understanding of appetite control. During this programme of research, the appointed candidate will gain a variety of skills including appetite and food intake measurement, venous blood sampling and ELISA analysis.

Please contact Dr Kevin Deighton for further details
Email: K.Deighton@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8123582
The effect of age and physical (in)activity on the anabolic resistance to essential amino acids and exercise in elderly populations
The age-associated loss of skeletal muscle mass (sarcopenia), strength and physical function can lead to an increased risk of falls, institutional care and premature mortality. Therefore, the ageing population represents a significant clinical, social and economic burden. Consequently, there is an urgent need to identify effective strategies that maintain skeletal muscle mass and improve physical function and independence with age.

The loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength with age is multi-factorial and it is likely that an inadequate protein intake and a sedentary lifestyle are contributor factors. Longitudinal nutritional interventions to increase muscle mass have explored the effectiveness of essential amino acids (EAAS), leucine, and EAAs enriched with leucine. However, these studies have presented conflicting findings and may depend on specific combinations and dose of EAAs. It may also depend on the presence of anabolic resistance, the blunted anabolic response of skeletal muscle to anabolic stimuli. Studies have reported an anabolic resistance to EAAs and exercise in the elderly compared with the young, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood.

The PhD will seek to investigate the acute and chronic effects of varied combinations of EAAs, physical (in)activity and exercise on skeletal muscle and its fibre type-specific responses using a variety of techniques including immunofluorescence microscopy. More specifically, the principal aims of the proposed research programme are: a) to investigate the underlying mechanisms of anabolic resistance in an elderly population b) to investigate to what extent aspects of anabolic resistance can be overcome by physical activity or nutritional interventions or a combination of both.

Please contact Dr Theocharis Ispoglou for further details
Email: T.Ispoglou@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8128603
Or Dr Oliver Wilson
Email: O.J.Wilson@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8123326
The effects of exercise on postprandial metabolism
Elevated postprandial plasma triglyceride concentrations are associated with the development and progression of atherosclerosis, and are established as an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular disease. Current research demonstrates that exercise and dietary interventions can reduce postprandial lipaemia, with exercise typically inducing greater reductions than dietary restriction. Furthermore, it appears that the timing of exercise in relation to food consumption and the type of exercise performed influences the observed changes in postprandial metabolism.

This project aims to further manipulate exercise and dietary interventions in order to optimise approaches to reduce postprandial lipaemia. Although plasma triglycerides are likely to be the primary outcome measure, it is anticipated that other traditional and novel cardiovascular disease risk factors will also be investigated. During this programme of research, the appointed candidate will gain a variety of skills including the development of standardised test meals, exercise testing, venous blood sampling and biochemical analysis.

Please contact Dr Kevin Deighton for further details
Email: K.Deighton@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8123582
The Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation and Maintenance (RE-AIM) of activity-permissive workstations on reducing sedentary time, increasing physical activity and improving health and employee performance in working adults
Many of the health issues that impact on both the performance of the NHS and of different organisations emerge from employee lifestyles.  Problems are especially pernicious when lifestyles combine extensive sitting at work and too little overall physical movement.  Reducing sitting time in the workplace, initiated through activity permissive workstations and activity breaks is to likely to both reduce cardiometabolic risk and improve workplace performance.

Little is known about how widely these behavioural options penetrate employee groups, nor how they are best promoted, undertaken or sustained.  Neither is the overall span of their influence on key markers of employee performance clear. To-date there are limited published EU data regarding behaviour change driven sit/stand interventions, their impact and effectiveness.  This project therefore provides an opportunity to add to the growing body of knowledge in this area, as well as to develop research that has reach and impact in the area of workplace health, wellbeing and performance.

Please contact Dr Zoe Rutherford for further details
Email: Z.H.Rutherford@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8124021
Understanding the effect of the obesogenic environment, using big data sources
Current UK policy in relation to the influence of the ‘obesogenic environment’ is driven largely on assumptions or speculations (assertions that are reported so often they are considered true) because empirical evidence is lacking. The aim of the proposed Ph.D. is to better understand the ‘obesogenic environment’ using big data.

Data on our activity, behaviour and location from sources as diverse as smart motorways, social media, store loyalty cards and medical records, alongside data from consumer organisations, and large survey data collected throughout the UK offer fruitful research opportunities to be harnessed and utilised in order to better understand the effect of the environment on obesity. It is the value extracted from these data which make this an innovative opportunity. Big data will allow the development of advanced frameworks and guidance to improve various aspects of the environment, presenting considerable opportunity to better understand and model the environment and how subtle changes could result in large benefits to the population.

The role of the environment on obesity is a public health priority, and in light of recent announcements from Public Health England in relation to the whole systems approach to obesity, this research is timely and will make a significant and original contribution to the body of knowledge.

Please contact Dr Claire Griffiths for further details
Email: C.Griffiths@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8126566
The obesogenic environment, understanding the role of individual diet and physical activity behaviours.

Policy makers are beginning to engage with the idea that environments contribute to obesity. Current evidence has focused on the proximity of locations, such as food stores and opportunities for physical activity, but has failed to reach a consensus with this approach. Epidemiologically, it is now recognised that proximity is an inadequate index of exposure.

This PhD will investigate individual behaviours within specific micro- and macro-environments. Using novel data collection methods (a bespoke mobile phone app) this project will triangulate exposure (i.e. the location of food stores, opportunities for PA, cycle paths etc.) with consumption/behaviour (i.e. individuals’ food choices, activities they engage in) and obesity at the individual level, considering spatial factors.

This project will require a multi- and inter-disciplinary approach, using novel data collection methods. Specialised analyses will be deployed to answer complex research questions. Outputs are expected to make timely, significant and original contributions to knowledge. These outputs will facilitate the development of more refined frameworks and guidance for detailing the effects of environmental factors on obesity.

Please contact Dr Duncan Radley for further details
Email: Duncan.Radley@leedsbeckett.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)113 8129108