Exercise and physical activity research

Physical activity, health and rehabilitation research

Explore our work in physical activity, health and rehabilitation – one of our areas of expertise within the Sport and Exercise Science research area

Our research investigates approaches for increasing physical activity, rehabilitating individuals from conditions preventing them from being active, and the positive benefits of physical activity in a variety of clinical and non-clinical contexts. Our work includes fundamental and applied research and incorporates interdisciplinary methods straddling biomechanical, physiological and psychological research techniques 

This work is important because regular physical activity is recommended by the National Health Service and World Health Organisation in order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health and reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular diseases and depression. A lack of physical activity has been identified as a leading risk factor for mortality; it is responsible for one in six UK deaths (equal to smoking) and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion annually.


Our research covers a wide range of topics, including

Physical Activity promotion

Research in this area examines individual and environmental interventions to promote physical activity and prevent and manage chronic diseases.  This includes community-based research projects working with individuals with disabilities to explore different strategies to enhance diet, increase levels of physical activity, and improve access to health information and services. Our research is also examining the motivational and psychological health benefits of community-based sport and physical activity for marginalised and disadvantaged populations including socio-economically disadvantaged young people and young offenders. We are also working with older adults to increase levels of physical activity.

Breast Health

Our research in this area aims to increase scientific knowledge of breast health and to raise awareness of this important aspect of women’s health. We are internationally renowned for research on the biomechanics of the breast and have developed a unique database on the breast comfort and support requirements of thousands of women. We are responsible for over half of the scientific publications in this area and regularly present work nationally and internationally. Current projects are exploring the prevalence and influence of breast movement asymmetry and the influence of breast mass on posture and back pain.

Exercise, Nutrition and Health

Work in this area is examining the most effective training modalities and nutritional interventions for countering the negative effects brought about by a chronically diseased state. We work with a range of conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and chronic kidney disease to try and improving quality of life. We are also examining the role of cardiopulmonary exercise testing, a valuable tool which can provide important clinical information regarding function and quality of life in those with chronic diseases, as well as undertaking  fundamental work examining the mechanism(s) by which disease pathophysiology affects an individual's cardiopulmonary and muscular function during exercise.


Our rehabilitation research involves a variety of cohorts. We are currently undertaking work investigating the role of emotional intelligence on uptake of exercise in the community following supervised exercise, and whether action planning can facilitate walking in post-myocardial infarction patients. We also have a programme of research investigating the biomechanical changes following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction as well as research examining the community based rehabilitation programme following stroke. 

Funders and collaborations

We work closely with a variety of charities, funding bodies, industry partners, the military and the NHS. We work collaboratively with the Respiratory unit, Renal unit, Rheumatology unit and Diabetes and Endocrinology units at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. We are also collaborating with groups within University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust as well as a number of academic institutions in the UK and Internationally.

Publication highlights

Scientific rationale for changing lower water temperature limits for triathlon racing to 12°C with wetsuits and 16°C without wetsuits

Br J Sports Med. 2018; 52(11):702-708. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-098914, J Saycell, M Lomax, H Massey, M Tipton

Using an Imagery Intervention to Train Visual Exploratory Activity in Elite Academy Football Players

Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (2019), 31:2, 218-234, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2017.1395929, C Pocock, M Dicks, R Thelwell, M Chapman, J Barker

Are professional footballers becoming lighter and more ectomorphic? Implications for talent identification and development

International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching 0(0) 1–7, DOI: 10.1177/1747954119837710, A Nevill, D Okojie, J Smith, P O’Donoghue, T Webb

Breast health and the exercising female

J Burbage, M Norris, B Horler, T Blackmore; Chapter 12 in The Exercising Female: Science and Its Application, Edited By Jacky Forsyth, Claire-Marie Roberts, published 2018 (Routledge)

Discover our areas of expertise

Physical activity, health and rehabilitation is one of 3 areas of expertise in the Sport and Exercise Science research area. Explore the others below.

Extreme environments

We investigate the physiological and psychological responses to some of the harshest environments on Earth, and our research informs the selection, preparation and protection of individuals required to perform in these conditions.

Find out more

Individual occupational and organisational performance

We investigate the factors influencing the effective function of organisations, and provide the evidence needed to develop safe and fair policies and standards for people working in arduous or physically-demanding occupations.

Read more

Interested in a PhD in Sport & Exercise Science?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Sport & Exercise Science postgraduate research degrees page.