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Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing MSc/PGDip/PGCert

Learn about the course below
October 2020
EU/INT induction: September 2020
1 year full-time
2 years part-time
£9,200 (UK/EU) *
£14,000 (INT) *
Course leader
Anne Elliott

We’re planning to teach through a flexible combination of online and face to face learning for the first few months of the new academic year. If you’re thinking about starting with us in autumn 2020 or spring 2021, check back for more detail on arrangements for this course in July and August, and see our current plans for teaching and learning.

Originally developed at Middlesex University, the first degree in the UK to focus purely on how to prescribe safe and effective physical activity, exercise and sporting participation to those living with the 18 most common chronic diseases in the UK and healthy ageing.

Why study MSc/PGDip/PGCert Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing at Middlesex University?

The health and fitness industry has witnessed an explosion in recent years as more and more people realise the importance of exercise. With this comes new challenges for professionals who must consider the wide range of long-term medical conditions which could impact their clients or patients, and how physical activity can positively aid healthy ageing.

Our postgraduate degree promotes cutting edge professional practice, giving students the opportunity to undertake leading research and acquire the latest knowledge of effective practice prescription for special populations, under the supervision of highly experienced experts.

The course has been designed specifically for qualified graduates and health and fitness professionals, so understands that you will bring experience and working knowledge with you. We help you put this into context and develop it. During the course you will learn how to justify your professional decisions with evidence-based practice, and develop your professional understanding and accountability.

You might already have a Level 3 GP referral qualification, a Level 4 individual condition qualification or a BSc degree, but this Level 7 degree takes that knowledge to the highest level. At the end of the degree you will have a comprehensive understanding of 18 of the most commonly presented conditions and how to manage them singly or as comorbidities through exercise prescription, and how to prescribe exercise to promote healthy ageing.

Course highlights

  • One of the few masters degrees in the UK to focus purely on the prescription of safe and effective physical activity across the most common chronic diseases and promote healthy ageing
  • You will consider the most effective way to work in a range of working environments, from fully equipped gyms to clients' own homes
  • Learn to understand the underlying pathologies of the most common chronic diseases
  • Learn the relevance of good nutrition and prescribe appropriate diet
  • Learn motivational factors of exercise adherence and utilise models to help keep your clients on track
  • Look in great depth at a specific condition that interests you through an individual research project
  • Once you complete the course you will be one of the highest qualified specialist trainers in the health and fitness industry
  • You learn using state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, at a university recognised as one of the best in the country for sport and exercise science and rehabilitation
  • The course allows you to build a sound foundation of individual research interests which can then be taken to PhD level.
  • As a student of this course you'll receive a free electronic textbook for every module.

Find out more

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What will you study on the MSc/PGDip/PGCert Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing?

This programme has been designed to give sports scientists and health and fitness practitioners the expertise and qualifications to prescribe exercise regimes to the 18 most common special populations in the UK and diet and healthy ageing.

The course examines the baseline prescription for a healthy population, and specific approaches to: eating disorders, obesity and dieting, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, thrombosis, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, elderly, depression, alzheimer’s disease, asthma, pregnancy, cancer, menopause, working with multi-morbidities, epidemiology of lifestyle factors, Baseline prescription and adaption, principles of nutrition, motivation and adherence psychology.

Students will also consider epidemiology and lifestyle factors of special population conditions. You will also explore how to prescribe a healthy diet and look at applied psychological models such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI).

The first three modules see you study the pathology of chronic diseases, nutrition, the best practice in exercise prescription, developing an understanding of your professional practice and applying your newly acquired knowledge in a work-based project. In the following two modules you will study research methods and then undertake a research project on a topic that particularly interests you.

Full-time students

Full-time students will complete all five modules in one year.

Part-time students

Part-time students will complete the first three modules in their first year before undertaking the Research Methods and Dissertation modules in the second year.


For the MSc, you will take all 5 modules.

PG Dip

You will take the following modules:

Exercise Prescription and Management in Special Populations and Healthy Ageing
Clinical Science and Nutrition
Research Methods
Professional placement

PG Cert

You will take Exercise Prescription and Management in Special Populations and Healthy Ageing and Clinical Science and Nutrition only.

  • Modules

    • Clinical Sciences and Nutrition (30 credits) - Compulsory

      During this module you will explore the normal anatomy, physiology and pathological changes for each condition and how this relates to exercise prescription for special populations. The module aims to equip you with knowledge and understanding of the abnormalities seen in function and provides the opportunity to study the general pathological mechanisms seen in diseases. This includes aspects of systemic disease with respect to aetiology, epidemiology, pathogenesis, and pharmacology.

    • Exercise Prescription and Management in Special Populations and Healthy Ageing (30 credits) - Compulsory

      This module focuses on the design, management and implementation of exercise programmes across all conditions, as well as common comorbidities including: contraindications and useful exercises. It aims to provide the opportunity to develop knowledge, inquiry and work-based activities that improve and inform therapeutic areas of your own practice. You will explore both academic and practical applications of specialist knowledge and demonstrate the learning gained.

    • Research Methods (30 credits) - Compulsory

      This module is designed to provide a critical overview of the main methods and approaches used for research at masters level, and to equip you to apply this knowledge in planning a research proposal. The module affords students opportunities to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of published work in their specialist area, or in health care in general. You will learn in groups and will explore philosophical, ethical and methodological differences which underpin various approaches to knowledge generation that can inform health care work. Workshops allow you to develop a research proposal for your dissertation, consider its adequacy and limitations, and justify the approach taken.

    • Dissertation (60 credits) - Compulsory

      Throughout the dissertation module you will be supported while undertaking research with a focus appropriate to your area of interest, potentially building upon the research proposal formulated in the Research Methods module. The module creates a peer learning community for students, enabling you to provide guidance and critically support one another on matters of ethical application, research methods, data collection, analysis and writing-up in the research process in addition to that provided by your supervisor.

    • Work Placement (30 credits) - Compulsory

      This module provides students with the opportunity to reflect on existing practice and put new knowledge gained from other modules into application in a real work scenario. You will be required to adopt a reflective and critical approach to your working practice and to promote a problem-solving approach in a work environment.

You can find more information about this course in the programme specification. Optional modules are usually available at levels 5 and 6, although optional modules are not offered on every course. Where optional modules are available, you will be asked to make your choice during the previous academic year. If we have insufficient numbers of students interested in an optional module, or there are staffing changes which affect the teaching, it may not be offered. If an optional module will not run, we will advise you after the module selection period when numbers are confirmed, or at the earliest time that the programme team make the decision not to run the module, and help you choose an alternative module.

How will the MSc/PGDip/PGCert Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing be taught?

The course is taught through seminars, labs tutorials and practical sessions to explore concepts discussed. Reading and preparatory work for the following week's topic is put up on UniHub together with a wide range of resources to aid learning. You are expected to come to class each week fully prepared with opinions and observations based on your preparatory reading and work experience to explore ideas fully in class. You will also give regular presentations to your class based on your personal and group research into topics.

The course is very focused on the application of knowledge into practice and work placement allows for classroom knowledge to be applied, and a reflective process of professionalism and efficacy is integrated through discussion in class and the production of a learning journal. This again illuminates areas of your practice that you might then use for your own research project for the dissertation.


You will be assessed by a variety of means, including:

  • Presentations
  • Diet programme design
  • Essay
  • Unseen examinations
  • Journal
  • A dissertation (4,000 word research paper).
  1. UK & EU
  2. International
  3. How to apply
  1. UK & EU
  2. International
  3. Additional costs
  4. Scholarships and bursaries

How can the MSc/PGDip/PGCert Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations support your career?

The course has been designed specifically for sport scientists and qualified health and fitness practitioners, providing a Level 7 degree which is the highest level of qualification in the industry.

Whether you are a personal trainer, physiotherapist, clinic rehabilitator, nurse, home visitor or other health professional; this Masters equips you to be one of the highest qualified specialists in the field and enables you to help people achieve their fitness, health and lifestyle goals safely and effectively.

Students with an undergraduate degree in a relevant area who wish to continue their education before pursuing one of the above careers would find this masters valuable.

The degree is also suitable for individuals working in specialist clinical units such as stroke or heart units, or those with an interest in research at doctoral level, who need a thorough baseline knowledge and require research experience with special populations.

  • Tija Hubej

    MSc Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations graduate

    I chose this course because I had previously worked with people with different chronic conditions and I felt that I was lacking some crucial knowledge of the sector. The MSc Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations really looked like it would help me to gain a deeper understanding of these conditions and therefore improve my practice.

    The support on the course was amazing throughout; I was able to really focus on my studies and gain one to one support from the lecturers. I also received assistance with my academic writing, and the library staff were extremely valuable in helping me to understand the system used to access journals.  Weekly presentations helped me tremendously with my confidence and English speaking skills.  I was never told what to do but instead was guided which is exactly what I was looking for at master’s level. .

    My MSc project examined the effectiveness of an exercise programme for informal carers of people living with dementia.  I believe that carers need something designed that is just for them, to promote balance and enhance quality of life. Currently I am a PhD student, inspired by my passion for this project and desire to continue researching this area. A PhD to me is like an ocean of opportunities – even though there are sharks and other dangers, there is so much to explore!

    To anyone considering this course, I would say to trust the professors instinct and engage 100%. It is such a broad and dynamic course so you can really pick your focus from a diverse range of topics. It is a challenging course so be prepared to take the leap and commit yourself for one year - the rewards will be immense!

  • Kenneth Ellacott

    MSc Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations student

    I’ve been climbing for over a year and have  just been selected for the GB para climbing team. Olympics 2024 is my goal.

    I suffered from a stroke in 2012, leaving me paralysed on the left side. From a personal perspective, understanding what happened to me and what helped me during rehabilitation was definitely motivation to study this course. Also, since my accident, I have been working with people in the gym who have different conditions and disabilities and I wanted to understand the theoretical background to these impairments and how they impact exercise ability.  Having already gained practical experience, I wanted to supplement this with theoretical knowledge.

    Coming to Middlesex, it was quickly apparent how friendly the staff were. They treated me like I was ‘normal’ which then helped me to feel more normal and was definitely a factor in feeling like I could achieve anything I wanted to. I had done my undergraduate degree here too and by the end of the course I felt ready and confident to progress on to master’s level. The support and expertise on the course is fantastic.

    I would recommend this programme to anyone who wants to better understand people living with a vast number of specialist conditions, and how exercise can improve their functionality and well-being.

    Find out more about Kenneth and his journey to the Olympics on his Facebook page.

  • Lia Stephenson

    MSc Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations student

    Lia Stephenson has been a triple jumper for five years and recently won the National BUCS Triple Jumping Competition.

    Middlesex University provided a smooth transition for me from undergraduate to postgraduate study. The MSc course is well structured with many practical elements combined with theoretical insights, which is exactly what I’d been looking for. The staff on the course are all extremely supportive and provide detailed feedback on all assignments.

    As an athlete, I train five times a week, meaning that I need to manage my time really well.  The structure of the course helped with this as we have all our timetabled lectures on a Monday, allowing me to fit my training commitments in alongside independent study.

    I won the Middlesex Sports Scholarship (Silver Award), giving me access to a coaching course, sport science workshops, sports massage and rehab centre, and £500 towards training and competition expenses. This has definitely helped me with many aspects of my professional development and progression.

    Choosing this course felt like the natural next step after my BSc in Sport Science as I wanted to further my education. My dissertation is examining the perceptions of exercise, and as someone who suffers from anaemia, I have a special interest in how this perception links to people using exercise as a tool to combat illness.  This programme is the missing piece in my jigsaw – it all fits together nicely!

  • Nick Herman

    MSc Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations student

    Middlesex University is the only university that offers such a unique course.  As a practitioner, I have being working with Special Populations for years without actually realising it. When reading about the course , it became apparent that I would be studying my clients (as well as myself being age 53 and a part of a special population). I had an opportunity to learn and as it was practice based learning, really improve my skills and understanding.

    When I started this course, it had been decades since I was last in a  formal educational environment  so I not only had to study and learn the subjects within each module, I also had to very quickly get up to speed with academic ways.  The support was fantastic, I cannot fault it. Everyone involved in the teaching side, from the head of department, the course leader and the lecturers have been positive, encouraging, patient,  passionate about their subject, and good humoured.  It is fair to say the quality of support made the difference for me in terms of passing or not. I have had to balance a full-time job, part-time work, and my family life alongside this course and the support helped me to do so effectively. In terms of facilities, the library, especially the quiet places, were extremely useful for me.

    At present I am doing what I was doing before I started the course,  but I am considering the options and opportunities that are there for me which did not exist before I started. I have been looking at working in Public Health in a research or campaign position, however I feel that I my private practitioner work is evolving  and I am designing a new practice and taking on more study. Hopefully, I will be in a position where I can come back to Middlesex University and study for  Doctorate of Professional Studies.

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