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Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing MSc (Distance Education)

Learn about the course below
September 2024
1 year full-time
September 2024: £10,500 (UK)*
£16,800 (INT)*
Course leader
Anne Elliott
This course is no longer accepting applications. The next entry will be October 2023. For an alternative programme, please see MSc Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing (On Campus)

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.

Our online distance education version means you can access the support of our experts, while interacting with others on the course, at a time to suit you.

Why study MSc 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

  • You have the option to learn in your own time or join in live online seminars that are recorded and uploaded
  • 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 advice on appropriate diets
  • 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 will have an optional residential week where practical sessions will take place, allowing you to 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.

Study at our world-class facilities: The London Sports Institute

Please note this course only runs in October

Find out more

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What will you study on the MSc 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.


  • 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.

More information about this course

See the course specification for more information:

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.

We are regularly reviewing and updating our programmes to ensure you have the best learning experience. We are taking what we have learnt during the pandemic and enhancing our teaching methods with new and innovative ways of learning.

We aim to model a wide range of teaching strategies and approaches on the course which you can adapt to your own setting.

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

The programme has developed bespoke materials to encourage independent learners and thinkers to develop practitioner praxis and problem solving. Content is contained in units; each unit covering a different chronic condition or skill. It will be delivered using ebooks on our learning platform which match up to the syllabus. Each unit is one week of learning. It will include a wide range of resources and media including Journals, books, video, podcasts, quizzes, industry periodicals and government policy documents. Students are instructed how to navigate these sections and complete the relevant tasks. There will be an online drop-in session each week where students can talk to a lecturer about any aspect of that week’s learning that they are unclear about. If the student is unable to attend they can email staff members who aim to get a reply back within 24 hours. Sessions will be asynchronous and others synchronous to give students a varied learning experience. A timetable of live streamed synchronous sessions offers students flexibility to attend and will focus on group tasks and discussion. These sessions will be recorded and uploaded to Unihub, for those that cannot attend.


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

  • Presentations
  • Diet programme design
  • 24hr study
  • Journal
  • A dissertation


You have a strong support network available to you to make sure you develop all the necessary academic skills you need to do well on your course.

Our support services will be delivered online and on campus and you have access to a range of different resources so you can get the help you need, whether you’re studying at home or have the opportunity to come to campus.

You have access to one to one and group sessions for personal learning and academic support from our library and IT teams, and our network of learning experts. Our teams will also be here to offer financial advice, and personal wellbeing, mental health and disability support.

  1. Standard entry requirements
  2. International (inc. EU)
  3. How to apply
  1. UK
  2. International
  3. Additional costs
  4. Scholarships and bursaries

How can the MSc 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.

The programme has 100% employment to date with graduates now working for the MOD, in middle management of national gym chains, setting up Special populations clinics nationally, working and developing community projects in the UK, working with cancer patients in Norway. Each year we have had a student continue their area of interest into a PhD with us.

We’ll carefully manage any future changes to courses, or the support and other services available to you, if these are necessary because of things like changes to government health and safety advice, or any changes to the law.

Any decisions will be taken in line with both external advice and the University’s Regulations which include information on this.

Our priority will always be to maintain academic standards and quality so that your learning outcomes are not affected by any adjustments that we may have to make.

At all times we’ll aim to keep you well informed of how we may need to respond to changing circumstances, and about support that we’ll provide to you.

Other courses

Sport and Exercise Nutrition MSc

Start: September 2024

Duration: 1 year full-time, 2-3 years part-time

Code: PGC611

Sport Rehabilitation MSc

Start: September 2023

Duration: 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

Code: PGB160

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