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High-intensity interval training (HIIT) as an option in a multidimensional menu of physical activity choices to benefit population health

Project Description

The conclusions of the USA physical activity report and the forthcoming revised UK guidelines provide a stimulus for our programme. The call for HIIT trials to include diverse groups of adults (by age, sex, race/ethnicity, or socioeconomic status etc.) is exciting, as it relates to the precision/ stratified medicine agenda. Our group has substantial expertise in quantifying true individual differences in response to interventions (‘treatment heterogeneity’). On-going research questions on adults’ adoption, adherence, and maintenance of HIIT reflect our aim of exploring the role of social-environmental-behaviour change theory in HIIT programme development for the first time.

Overall aim

To provide critical preliminary data to inform the research agenda in the area of the recommended quality and quantity of physical activity to improve health outcomes. The guiding principle is to explore the value of HIIT as a potentially viable option in a ‘multidimensional menu’ of physical activity/ exercise choices to help adults meet the physical activity recommendation.


1). Conduct a systematic review of the literature on practical HIIT interventions in adults including evidence of compensation effects (see below).
2). The HIIT exercise interventions are not designed for weight loss/ weight control, as the absolute energy expenditure of the sessions is relatively low. Nevertheless, in this programme of work the PhD candidate will, using criterion 24-7 monitoring methods for free-living physical activity energy expenditure (e.g. combined sensing using heart rate and accelerometry), explore the effect of short-term HIIT on total daily energy expenditure, to evaluate the extent to which people might compensate for engaging in a HIIT intervention by doing less spontaneous physical activity at other times of the day. Such energy expenditure compensation could be a potential negative effect or unintended consequence of HIIT.
3). Using a fusion of social-environmental-behaviour change theory, to use intervention mapping (including co-creation with participants) to develop a practical and salient real-world HIIT intervention that provides an option in a smorgasbord of physical activity choices within a multidimensional physical activity menu.
4). To design and implement a pilot/feasibility RCT as an early part of the overall process of evaluating the effectiveness of the HIIT intervention. As part of this pilot, individual response heterogeneity and longer-term energy expenditure compensation will be explored to inform the design of any subsequent definitive RCT. The PhD candidate will explore possible behavioural/ motivational reasons for any observed compensation via an integrated qualitative work package (focus groups/ semi-structured interviews).


Applicants must apply using the online form on the University Alliance website at Full details of the programme, eligibility details and a list of available research projects can be seen at

The final deadline for application is 12 April 2019.

Funding Notes

DTA3/COFUND participants will be employed for 36 months with a minimum salary of (approximately) £20,989 per annum. Tuition fees will waived for DTA3/COFUND participants who will also be able to access an annual DTA elective bursary to enable attendance at DTA training events and interact with colleagues across the Doctoral Training Alliance(s).

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 801604.

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