I chose the masters because it seemed to be so much more health focused than sports focused. The aim of the course is to treat exercise as a medicine, and that really interested me.
The majority of modules are focused on chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease, cancers, metabolic syndromes, and we’ve learnt that exercise can bring a lot of benefits to alleviating the symptoms in these diseases and I just found it really fascinating.
What sparked your interest in using exercise for health purposes?
In my undergraduate degree BSc Sport & Exercise Science we had a module called physical activity and health. It focused a lot on how short periods of exercise can change people’s behaviour in positive ways. This was the first point where I learnt that exercise can have big psychological benefits to people’s health, and that led me to wonder how it can help physically and if there’s research that exercise can be treated as medicine. That’s exactly what this course is focused on, so that was the trigger that made me think ‘that’s new, that’s novel, no-one else is really doing a masters in this yet, so let’s try it!’
What did you enjoy most about the course?
The best thing about the course is probably the opportunity to see and apply the knowledge you’re learning to real life. We had clients coming in to visit us in classes for things like cancer rehabilitation, and diseases such as diabetes and obesity. We learnt directly how we can interact with them and how we can assess them, and put everything we’d learnt into practice.
When you met the clients did you also get the opportunity to prescribe them exercise programmes?
Yes, they were real-life case studies. Three different clients came into our classes and we worked with them for a couple of weeks to see what they wanted from an exercise programme, and based on that and the couple of interviews we did with them we designed a 12 week programme – this was one of our assessments, so even the assessments for the course are applied.
What was it like meeting the patients – did that make you really see the connection between what you’re learning in lectures and real life?
You can learn as much as you want, you can learn for years from books, but when you get the opportunity see how clients carry themselves, how they respond, how they feel, how they act - it’s always different. That is much better than looking at the theory and thinking ‘okay this might be related to that or to that or to that’ but in it’s always different when you're interacting with real clients, not a hypothetical scenario. That definitely makes a difference and gives you scenarios where the theory is saying one thing, but in real life it might not be working so you might need to adjust something to make it really tailored to the client. It means you learn on the course what it's like to treat people in real life and gives you the best preparation possible for your future.
What was the most interesting disease that you studied?
Probably the most challenging and interesting disease I studied was Parkinson's disease. We had a neurological module where we could pick a disease and then do a short project analysing how it affects someone’s every day living and how exercise can reduce or minimise the symptoms of this disease. I chose Parkinsons and created a literature review on it - looking at what’s known, what’s not known, how people treat the disease in terms of exercise, and then we had a case scenario of baseline assessments where we looked at a real patient and then we had to create a 12 week exercise programme. It was great because it was so complicated, but when it’s complicated you learn so much as well, and even though it was challenging I probably enjoyed this project the most on the course. And particularly as the disease is growing bigger I think it’s really important that people keep studying it and finding ways to alleviate the symptoms.
What were the lecturers like?
The lecturers were great. We had good quality interaction with every lecturer – they are always there to help, they always respond to you, you can grab a coffee with them, obviously you need to show the initiative, but once you’ve shown that they will see it and you can have meetings with them and in the end get better marks. They are very helpful – they have a lot of experience.
For the module on neurological conditions they even took us to a clinic to see so we could see how stroke patients are analysed by really experienced physiotherapists who specialise in treating strokes. We saw how the physio tried to assess the patient and saw how the patient was responding in real life - it was really interesting.
We also went to the local leisure centre and observed a circuit training class. It was for a variety of different conditions so people with Parkinsons, stroke and various diseases and you can see that it was obviously very limited amount of movement and had been prescribed differently but you can see how people were walking and the gait differences caused by the disease and how they interacted with each other and that they were actually enjoying it and the social benefits of exercise.
What do you plan to do when you graduate?
Travel! (laughing) No I'm joking. So when I’ve finished I’ve looked into two options – either looking for a job - I’ve seen a few adverts for exercise referral specialist or as an exercise physiologist and wellbeing advisor, or there is the opportunity to do PhDs. I guess the choice is personal to what you want to do, but I think I will try to look for a job. All the applied learning we've done on the course has been really valuable so I've built up a lot of real-life experience, and I think that will help me a lot when I start applying for roles.
What would you say to someone thinking of studying the same masters?
Do it! I would say you won’t lose anything you will gain a lot – just do it. Especially if you’re like me, personally I graduated, I took a year off, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go and I saw this course and I thought why not I would try it, and I’ve found it really valuable and different to other sports courses, it's tailored to health and exercise which is probably the biggest growing area in the industry at the moment, so just try it, it’s very very applied, it’s very very unique – go for it!