Centre for Active Lifestyles

Establishing physiological and biochemical responses to physical activity (PA) to help identify and improve community and service-based PA provision.

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Page last updated 17/09/2020

We focus on structured exercise and daily-life PA, especially within unreached communities. This gives our work particular relevance to Public Health, Social Services and Education. 

MULTIDISCIPLINARY translational research

Our academics draw on a range of academic domains – from Psychology to Physiology - to offer a distinctive, innovative and effective approach to delivering and evaluating bespoke programmes.

We use a translational research to establish the best fit between local services providers and potential users. Translational research applies findings from basic science to enhance human health and well-being. Using this approach, we’re able to build on basic scientific research to create new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics.

It allows us to adopt scientific investigation into specific problems facing health practices. We work closely alongside practitioners, service users and other academics to make our work valuable to individuals, groups, services and whole communities.

Improving community and service-based physical activity provision

Our distinctive perspectives on promoting lifestyle change allow us to design bespoke approaches. These approaches activate the adaptive capacities of individuals, groups and services.

Using implementation science, we aim to recognise the underlying causes of unhealthy lifestyles within communities. Then, through numerous innovative methods, we identify and activate the high leverage actions that support positive change. Our methodologies seek to design effective lifestyle change interventions, delivered within specific contexts.

Here are some of our current projects:

This work has strong links to a range of local, regional, national and international research projects, including the EU-funded project.

One of our principle achievements has been the development of the first UK-based, whole-school PA schema – the Creating Active Schools (CAS) framework. This represents a close partnership with the Yorkshire Sport Foundation and Public Health England: Yorkshire and Humber.

Drawing on the expertise of 50 regional, national and international stakeholders, CAS represents a collaborative and co-produced effort. It includes 18 UK and international experts in school-based PA. These experts have joined the work from:

  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Yorkshire Sport Foundation
  • Public Health England (Yorkshire and Humber)
  • University of Texas
  • Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
  • Amsterdam UMC
  • Loughborough University
  • University of Leicester
  • Bradford Institute for Health Research
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Cambridge
  • Edge Hill University

CAS is already shaping policy, research and practice, as well as embedding sustainable PA interventions to help more inactive children become more active.

This work focuses on how iconic sports events can be used as opportunities to promote community-based PA. It’s headed by Prof. Jim McKenna and features a strong collaboration with academics in our sister School of Events Tourism and Hospitality Management.

In 2018 and 2019, we explored how Tour de Yorkshire was used as the springboard event for on-the-day PA promotion in a range of communities in Doncaster.
In another funded project, we used a Behavioural Economics model to identify that engagement in high quality local PA provision was impeded by two powerful ‘friction’ factors:

  • The ‘scarcity mindset’ emerging from unstable income and employment
  • Low quality green spaces

This was found to be the case in two of the least active Doncaster neighbourhoods.

On-going work is exploring how the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) can innovatively apply ‘gamification’ to community PA planning, provision and evaluation. Unique to RLWC, pre-event PA is the principle PA target. The work is supported by Doncaster Council and Sport England.


This work aims to establish the systems changes associated with improved PA provision in the Calderdale area. It builds on our previous work around whole systems approaches, featuring a unique, eclectic, ‘influencer’ model.

The pilot is based around priority areas and services, with interventions generated by local PA ‘champions’. Across six whole-day training sessions, the champions were coached to use the Design Council’s unique Double Diamond design approach to develop bespoke interventions for their target audiences.

Sport England are funding this evaluation as part of a nationwide commitment to improve community-based promotion of PA. Dr. Alexandra Potts is the Research Fellow undertaking the extensive field work associated with the project.

Leeds City Council, in collaboration with Leeds Beckett University, sought to establish an understanding on attitudes and influences on physical activity (PA) levels in Leeds.

From August 2019 to December 2019, data were collected from a bespoke website and focus groups. The website received 2,437 responses, representing at least 50 responses from 20 of Leeds’ 28 postcode areas. The focus groups questioned 1,810 individuals.

The aim was to better understand what being active means to individuals, and what would help them be more active. This involved influencer scoring, which identifies how well each of the six most powerful behavioural influences are being leveraged.

Results indicate existing provision is inadequate to encourage PA. Top priorities for making Leeds a more active city included:

  • Link PA with social opportunities
  • Improve accessibility – reduce costs, offer family sessions, provide adapted equipment and tailor opportunities for people with specific health needs
  • Make local green spaces accessible and safe

Environmental influences were not only the most commonly discussed barrier but also proposed as the best option for increasing PA levels. As a baseline, these findings can not only guide local stakeholders and decision makers to plan PA provision, but also offer a point-of-comparison to establish the impact of new approaches.

It’s being delivered by Prof. Jim McKenna and Alex Christensen (post-doctoral researcher) and follows on from prolonged engagement with the citywide ‘Let’s Get Active’ intervention.


Ageing muscle quality

With an ever-increasing ageing population, more people will suffer from sarcopenia (muscle weakness), which results in accelerated functional decline across the lifespan.

Dr Theocharis Ispoglou leads the sarcopenia theme by addressing enhancement of skeletal muscle adaptations. This is achieved through optimisation of nutritional intakes in response to exercise and PA.

Proof of concept trials have been completed in older men and women, resulting in the development of novel nutritional prototypes to address protein and energy deficiencies. Recently, we showed the superiority of these prototypes over protein supplements.

Looking ahead, our immediate priority is to conduct clinical trials involving exercise and novel nutritional supplementation in cancer patients. Our immediate work here is to complete a series of feasibility studies in bowel cancer and frail patients, in collaboration with clinicians from Leeds Teaching Hospital Trusts.

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