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Exercise and Physical Activity for Special Populations and Healthy Ageing MSc

Learn about the course below
September 2024
1 year full-time
2 years part-time
£10,500 (UK) *
£16,800 (INT) *
Course leader
Anne Elliott

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 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.

In our partnership with Saracens Rugby Club, you’ll have access to the fantastic resources at StoneX Stadium, including the brand new £23 million redevelopment project of the West Stand which offers state-of-the-art facilities as a top educational and high performance centre for teaching and research excellence. With some of the most advanced equipment in the UK, you will be able to utilise the new specialist spaces, simulation suites, specialist labs, plus much more.

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 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 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.

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.


  • 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 course will be taught using blended learning through live teaching and online learning materials, recorded lectures, seminars and tutorials. 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 attend the online or live seminar 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 occasional presentations to your class based on your personal 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. A reflective process of professionalism and efficacy is integrated through discussion in class through the production of a learning journal together with online learning materials. This again illuminates areas of your practice that you might then use for your own research project for the dissertation.

Both work placement and the four-day practical sessions. Should either of these activities be impossible to undertake, you will be given alternative ways of learning.


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

  • Presentations
  • Practical
  • Diet programme design
  • Essay
  • 24 hour case study
  • Literature review
  • Research proposal
  • A dissertation (4,000 word research paper).

Teaching and learning from 2022

We have developed new approaches to teaching and learning for the 2021/22 academic year, and have resumed the majority of our teaching on campus.

We are currently reviewing our approach to teaching and learning for 2022 entry and beyond. We've learned a lot about how to give you a quality education - we aim to combine the best of our pre-pandemic teaching and learning with access to online learning and digital resources which put you more in charge of when and how you study. We will keep you updated on this throughout the application process.

Your timetable will be built around on campus sessions using our professional facilities, with online sessions for some activities where we know being virtual will add value. We’ll use technology to enhance all of your learning and give you access to online resources to use in your own time.

The table below gives you an idea of what learning looks like across a typical week. Some weeks are different due to how we schedule classes and arrange on campus sessions.

This information is likely to change slightly for 2022 entry as our plans evolve. You'll receive full information on your teaching before you start your course.

Learning structure: typical hourly breakdown in 2022/23


Live in-person on campus learning

Contact hours per week, per level:

6 hours

Live online learning

Average hours per week, per level:

1 hours

Tutor set learning activities

Average hours per week, per level:

4 hours

Outside of these hours, you’ll be expected to do independent study where you read, listen and reflect on other learning activities. This can include preparation for future classes. In a year, you’ll typically be expected to commit 1200 hours to your course across all styles of learning. If you are taking a placement, you might have some additional hours.

This information is likely to change slightly for 2024/25 entry as our plans evolve. You'll receive full information on your teaching before you start your course.

Definitions of terms

  • Live in-person on campus learning – This will focus on active and experiential sessions that are both:
    • Led by your tutors including seminars, lab sessions and demonstrations We'll schedule all of this for you
    • Student-led by you and other students, like small group work and presentations.
  • Tutor set learning activities – This covers activities which will be set for you by your tutor, but which you will undertake in your own time. Examples of this include watching online materials, participating in an online discussion forum, completing a virtual laboratory or reading specific texts. You may be doing this by yourself of with your course mates depending on your course and assignments. Outside of these hours, you’ll also be expected to do further independent study where you’ll be expected to learn, prepare, revise and reflect in your own time.


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.

  • 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.

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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