Skip to Content

Changing sedentary behaviour in older adults

Changing sedentary behaviour in older adults


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

Sedentary behaviour has been recognised as a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases. Many older adults spend large amounts of their daily lives sitting down. There is therefore a need to understand how changed in sedentary behaviour can be implemented, to help our ageing population live independent and healthy lives.

The aim of the proposed studentship is to investigate the factors related to changes (both increases and decreases) in sedentary behaviour in older adults.

Firstly, using longitudinal data from a cohort study of older adults (ELSA cohort), the student will examine the health benefits and the individual correlates associated with changes in prolonged sitting in older adults.

This knowledge will then be brought into the EU Horizon 2020 funded Sitless project (, where the student will be given the opportunity to work with an international team engaged in the development and evaluation of a sedentary behaviour intervention. The overall aim of the Sitless study is to assess the effectiveness of a complex sedentary behaviour and physical activity intervention in older adults. The student will contribute to the recruitment of participants and the assessment of accelerometer measured sedentary behaviour, as well as self-reported health and wellbeing, in the participants.

Finally, using methods from environmental and behavioural economics, the student will develop and implement a discrete choice experiment in the Northern Ireland Sitless cohort. Discrete choice experiments are survey-based techniques used to investigate trade-offs people make between different hypothetical scenarios, where respondents are shown alternative variants of the scenario and are asked to indicate a preference. We will present a range of scenarios for different durations of sitting (e.g. long bouts, short bouts of sitting and standing, short bouts of sitting with longer bouts of standing) and ask participants to choose their preferred option.

Key words/descriptors

sedentary behaviour, ageing, behavourial economics

First supervisor

Dr Mark Tully - School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences

Second and third supervisors from a complementary discipline

Dr Marco Boeri - School of Biological Sciences

Professor Frank Kee - School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Dr Mark Tully has supervised three PhD students and two MPhil students to completion. He has published over 50 peer reviewed articles in the area and is regularly invited to present his research to international audiences. He is Director of the Northern Ireland Public Health Research Network and the Northern Ireland lead on the EU Horizon 2020 Sitless Project. He is a member of the International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity and the International Sedentary Behaviour Research Network.

Dr Marco Boeri is currently supervising two PhD students.

Prof Frank Kee has supervised 11 PhD students and 7 MD students to completion. He is director of the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research (NI) and Deputy Director for the Centre for Public Health in Queens University. The Centre of Excellence, one of five in the UK, is multidisciplinary and spans three Faculties in the University and a range of external stakeholders.

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)

As part of the studentship, the student will work with the external partners of the Centre of Excellence, including those from the community and voluntary sector and the Public Health Agency. During the studentship we plan on arranging a three month secondment with the Public Health Agency to help deliver the Sitless project, in a similar manner to that undertaken by one of our current PhD students working in physical activity in older adults.

The student will also have the opportunity to work with our international partners on the Sitless project through regular project meetings and we would arrange for them to visit partner universities for short periods of time as the project progresses. During these visits they would have the opportunity to collaborate with the other specialists on the team, including geriatricians and health economists to develop their expertise and knowledge.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner

Project partners are academics based in Spain (Fundacio Salut I Envelliment & Fundacio Blanquerna), Germany (University of Ulm), Denmark (Univerity of Southern Denmark) and Scotland (University of Glasgow), as well as a partnership with a not for profit organisation in France (Siel Blue).

Training that will be provided through the research project itself

The student will learn a variety of research skills including the behavioural economics and statistics, objective assessment of sedentary behaviour using accelerometers and discrete choice methods. These will be learnt through supervision, participating in specific sessions offered as part of the Masters in Public Health, in addition to the attendance at statistical and behavioural economics courses.

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

In addition to the specific research skills, examples of other training that will be undertaken will be project management and team working courses (to facilitate effective engagement with the wider Sitless team), public engagement training (offered through the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health) and courses on ethics and governance in research and writing for research and lay audiences.

Siel Blue, who are a non-academic partner in the Sitless project, will provide guidance and training on IPR and translating research into practice. Their role in the Sitless project is to commercialise the intervention package.

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

We would expect that this studentship would result directly in two to three publications targeted at 3* peer reviewed journals. Findings will also be disseminated via workshops in each of the partner countries and conference presentations at Physical Activity (e.g. International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity Annual Scientific Conference).

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

As in other research projects in our centre, the student will be expected to engage in a variety of impact activities, including talks to partner organisations and relevant charitable organisations to discuss the research, creation and dissemination of lay summaries of research findings and participation in research showcase events such as the Northern Ireland Science Festival.