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  Increasing physical activity in later life: making behaviour change interventions that better meet the needs of older people

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Dr Laura Brown, Prof David French  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits. However, many older people engage in little or no physical activity. Findings ways to support older people to exercise more regularly could therefore have significant positive effects on the health and wellbeing of older people. 

Behaviour Change Techniques (BCTs) are individual components of interventions that enable people to change their behaviour. Self-regulation BCTs, such as planning and self-monitoring, have been shown to be particularly effective at increasing health behaviours, such as physical activity, in the general population. However, there is evidence that these BCTs are less effective at helping older people change their behaviour (French et al., 2014; French et al., 2021). This may be due, in part, to age-related declines in cognitive function that make it more difficult for older adults to engage with more cognitively-demanding components of BCTs (Hall et al., 2014). It could also be due to changes in motivation that occur with increased age that make some BCTs less acceptable to older people (Devereux Fitzgerald et al., 2016). Physical activity interventions containing self-regulation BCTs could therefore be made more effective if the BCT components were adapted to meet the cognitive and motivational needs of older people.

The aims of the PhD would be to: 1) develop a better understanding of the reasons why some BCTs are less effective for older people, and then 2) adapt existing BCTs to make them better suited to older people’s needs. This PhD would specifically focus on using BCTs to increase physical activity in later life.

This PhD is likely to use a range of methods including qualitative research and co-design with older people, systematic literature reviews, and experimental studies of BCT effectiveness.

Entry Requirements

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area/subject. Candidates with a Masters degree related to Cognitive or Health Psychology are particularly encouraged to apply. 

How To Apply

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select the appropriate subject title.

For international students, we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website”

Medicine (26) Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website


Devereux-Fitzgerald, A., Powell, R., Dewhurst, A. & French, D.P. (2016). The acceptability of physical activity interventions to older adults: A systematic review and meta-synthesis. Social Science and Medicine, 158, 14-23.
French, D.P., Banafa, R., Williams, S., Taylor, C., & Brown, L.J.E. (2021). How does the understanding, experience and enactment of self-regulation behaviour change techniques vary with age? A thematic analysis. Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, 13, 239-260.
French, D.P., Olander, E.K., Chisholm, A. & McSharry, J. (2014). Which behaviour change techniques are most effective at increasing older adults’ self-efficacy and physical activity behaviour? a systematic review. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 48, 225-23
Hall, P.A., Zehr, C., Paulitzki, J. & Rhodes, R. (2014). Implementation intentions for physical activity behavior in older adult women: an examination of executive function as a moderator of treatment effects. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 48, 130-136.