Centre for Active Lifestyles

We address factors underpinning (in)activity, aiming to improve community and/or service provision. Our experimental work addresses how the body (including cognition and executive function) responds to physical activity (PA) and exercise. Our community work challenges taken-for-granted assumptions that any PA provision will ensure more people become more active.

Image of young girl partaking in tennis summer camp
Abstract image of different coloured footballs

We are responding to the societal need to better understand and deliver PA to improve Public Health and reduce longstanding social inequalities. 

research themes

The Centre addresses two main themes;

  • Identifying and improving community and/or service-based PA provision and
  • Establishing physiological and biochemical responses and adaptations to exercise and PA (SARCA)

We focus on daily-life PA and structured exercise. Our focus is on ‘under-reached’ communities. This makes it especially relevant to contemporary public services, especially Public Health, Social Services and Education. Our academics draw on a range of areas – from Psychology to Physiology - to deliver insights. We offer a distinctive, innovative and effective approach to designing, delivering and evaluating tailor-made programmes.

Our approach is highly translational. We blend the best of science with best practice. This create a ‘best fit’ for potential users. Our approach supports individuals, groups and whole communities to become more physically active.

Improving community and service-based physical activity provision

Improving community and service-based physical activity provision

Our distinctive perspectives on promoting lifestyle change allow us to create tailor-made approaches. These activate the adaptive capacities of individuals, groups and services. We aim to identify and then modify the underlying causes of under-activity. Then, using innovative methods, our approaches activate the most powerful influences on day-to-day behaviour. Our methodologies produce effective, context-specific interventions.

Here are some of our current projects:


This work is headed by Dr. Andy Daly-Smith. It has already established strong links to a range of local, regional, national and international research projects, up to, and including the EU-funded project (link to web page).

One of the principle initial achievements of this work is a UK ‘first’. We developed a whole-school PA schema - the Creating Active Schools (CAS) framework. This work is important because iit was based on a co-production approach. Importantly, our approach integrated the real world understanding and previously unrecognized priorities. CAS is already shaping policy, research and practice. CAS embeds sustainable interventions that help more inactive children become more active.

This work focuses on how iconic sports event can promote community-based PA. 

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 (link to both Tour de Yorkshire reports).

In another funded, follow-on project, using a Behavioural Economics model we identified that engagement in high quality local PA provision - in two of the least active Doncaster neighbourhoods - was impeded by two powerful ‘friction’ factors. These were; (i) the ‘scarcity mindset’ emerging from prolonged instability around income, housing and employment and (ii) low quality green spaces (link to 6-monthly report). Based on these experiences our group is currently being funded by Sport England to develop a ‘best practice’ report of how to optimise programme development across the UK. 

On-going work is currently exploring how the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) can innovatively apply ‘gamification’ to community PA planning, provision and evaluation (link to report). Uniquely, in RLWC pre-event PA is the principle PA target. The work is supported by Doncaster Council and Sport England. In the School of Sport it is headed by Prof. Jim McKenna and features a strong collaboration with academics in our sister School of Events Tourism and Hospitality Management.

This work investigates how PA uptake can be increased by aligning evaluation and delivery using a common framework. It builds on our previous work around whole systems approaches. Aligning the local PA system around the ‘influencer’ model, the LDP intends to help more under-active locals become more active. 

Based on numbers and stories, our work represents a ‘deep dive’ into daily lives of Calderdale residents. Consistent with systems science, we are using a developmental evaluation (DE) approach. DE requires careful alignment between evaluation and improvement. Done well, DE releases adaptive capacity in the local system. 

Our approach aims to ensure alignment at three levels’ systems, users and deliverers. Comparing waves of ‘scoring’ from stakeholders, users and deliverers will indicate system change. User perspectives will describe and predict change, and its activating agents, over time. Deliverers’ on-going self-assessments will show change and compatibility with users’ needs and preferences. 

The pilot is based around priority areas and services. Interventions are generated by local, design-trained, PA ‘champions’. ‘Champions’ were coached to use the Double Diamond design approach. Through that process, they developed bespoke interventions for their target audiences and areas. 

Sport England are funding this evaluation as part of a nationwide commitment to improve community-based promotion of PA. Led by Prof. Jim McKenna, Dr. Alexandra Potts is the Research Fellow undertaking the extensive field work associated with the project (link to initial proposal).

In this work we are collaborating with Leeds City Council (LCC). The work links unique community-level insights to powerful system-wide change frameworks. This is helping LCC meet their priority to become a highly active city community. Our recent city-wide ‘conversation’ is already identifying important and exciting promotional opportunities. 

From August 2019 – December 2019, PA-related data were collected through a bespoke website. This generated 2,437 responses, with at least 50 responses from 20 of Leeds’ 28 postcode areas. Separate focus groups involved 1,810 residents. Results from both data capture approaches align. Existing provision does not support the large numbers of under-active residents. This lack of support is linked to the places where they live. Meeting basic needs was an unrelenting problem for many under-active respondents. Top priorities for making Leeds a more active city included:

  • linking PA with social opportunities
  • improving accessibility (i.e. reduce costs, offer family sessions, provide adapted equipment and/or tailor opportunities for people with specific health needs)
  • making local green spaces accessible and safe.

This approach has generated unique insights. Individual competency was especially important for helping underactive residents. Further, cluster analysis identified three new PA-based groupings each with ~600 respondents.

Importantly, these insights are behaviourally-oriented and context-specific. Now were working with local stakeholders and decision makers to plan new PA provision. This is down to the level of specific postcodes. It is being delivered by Prof. Jim McKenna and Alex Christensen (post-doctoral researcher) and follows prolonged engagement with the citywide ‘Let’s Get Active’ intervention.


physiological and biochemical responses  and adaptations to exercise and physical activity

SARCA: Skeletal Muscle Health, Arthritis, Respiratory and Cardiovascular Health

SARCA consists of four interdisciplinary special interest research groups that collaborate to achieve two key objectives; firstly, to promote skeletal muscle, respiratory and cardio-metabolic health across the lifespan, and secondly, to investigate the therapeutic utility of exercise, physical activity and nutritional interventions for associated non-communicable diseases. An overview of each research group is detailed below.

Skeletal muscle mass, strength and function are fundamental for health and optimisation of performance in exercise and normal daily living activities. Conversely, compromised skeletal muscle health through disuse or muscle wasting conditions such as sarcopenia can reduce functional performance, promote metabolic dysfunction, and contribute to a poor quality of life. Led by Dr Theocharis Ispoglou, the Skeletal Muscle Health Research Group focuses on identifying exercise and nutrition interventions that are designed to promote skeletal muscle health across the lifespan. Dr Ispoglou’s key priority is to address sarcopenia in older adults and in clinical populations, through the combination of muscle loading and optimisation of dietary protein intake, which serve as the cornerstone for the management of this condition. Dr Ispoglou’s work is complemented by Dr Wilson’s work, which uses immunofluorescence microscopy to explore skeletal muscle metabolism at rest and during exercise. Dr Wilson is interested in the mechanisms by which diet, sedentary behaviour, obesity, and ageing may compromise skeletal muscle health, and the mechanisms by which exercise training can improve skeletal muscle health.

For more information please conduct Dr Theocharis Ispoglou (T.Ispoglou@leedsbeckett.ac.uk) or Dr Oliver Wilson (O.J.Wilson@leedsbeckett.ac.uk)


Our work focuses on the development, evaluation and implementation of exercise interventions to optimise quality of life in people living with chronic conditions such as Arthritis or Cancer. Our projects range from investigating cellular mechanisms of physiological responses and adaptations to exercise, to translational studies evaluating the applicability of various exercise interventions in society. In collaboration with national and international partners, we promote a rounded approach to the management of such conditions. Our research has informed policy development and clinical guidance, while our community outreach programme introduces patients, carers and healthcare professionals to our findings and methods, as well as their applications. 

For more information please conduct Dr Antonios Stavropoulos (A.Stavropoulos@leedsbeckett.ac.uk)


Respiratory disease affects one in five people and is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the UK. Led by Dr Oliver Price, the Clinical Exercise and Respiratory Physiology Research Group comprises of a multidisciplinary team of exercise physiologists, respiratory physicians, healthcare scientists and physical activity behaviour change experts. Our mission is to optimise the diagnosis and management of exertional breathing disorders and to further knowledge and promote the disease modifying potential of exercise and physical activity in people living with chronic lung disease.

For more information please conduct Dr Oliver Price (O.Price@leedsbeckett.ac.uk)


Despite improvements in care and gradual reductions in mortality, cardiovascular diseases (CVD) still pose a serious health burden worldwide. Led by Mr Costas Tsakirides, the Cardiovascular Physiology Research Group focuses on optimising exercise interventions for people living with CVD as well as the education of people who care for them. We also actively engage in cardiovascular screening/monitoring in the context of primary prevention (athletes) and secondary prevention and rehabilitation (patients with a history of CVD). We work with both regional and international partners, and serve to foster, support, and consolidate research from across the University and beyond. 

For more information please conduct Mr Costas Tsakirides (C.Tsakirides@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

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