March 8, 2022

Charitable trust instructor turns physical activity experience into PhD success

We are championing the academic success of one of our fitness instructors who has developed a career dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity.

Sheona Mchale, a fitness instructor with Fife Sports and Leisure Trust since our launch in 2008, has recently achieved PhD success at Edinburgh Napier University thanks to a passion to find out more about how the body responds to physical activity, particularly for those who have experience of cardiac heart disease (CHD).

Sheona’s experience within the sports and leisure industry goes back over 20 years, beginning as a group fitness instructor, delivering a wide range of classes from step aerobic to more recent fitness trends such as body balance, kettlebells and circuits. It was during her time with our self-funded health and wellbeing programme designed to support local people living with long-term health conditions that Sheona’s interest in exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation for individuals diagnosed with CHD began.

Sheona said: “While supporting the trust’s health and wellbeing team, I was approached by an NHS Fife nurse specialist to take part in a pilot course to develop the first specialist exercise instructor qualification for the British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (BACPR). This, and the people I supported, inspired me to keep studying – I completed a BA in Sports Studies, then, I went on to achieve a post-graduate teaching certificate, followed by a Master of Research (MRes) and a PhD, both funded by Edinburgh Napier University.

“The focus of cardiac rehabilitation progressed during my years of delivery, recently placing people after a diagnosis of CHD front and centre of decision making regarding how we delivered the exercise component within hospital settings and leisure centres. This was prompted by research showing that globally, over half of patients choose not to attend cardiac rehabilitation. My PhD addressed this challenge and included published evidence which can inform the engagement decisions of individuals after a diagnosis of CHD. In collaboration with NHS Fife nurse specialists, the model of cardiac rehabilitation delivery within the trust’s health programme has continually evolved, laterally adopting a personalised approach to supporting individuals yet maintaining a group-based environment where people can benefit from talking to others who share their lived experience of a CHD diagnosis.

“The current trust delivery model offers a programme aimed at supporting individuals to self-manage their cardiac condition, lifestyle, and physical activity behaviour over the longer term. An approach proven to reduce rehospitalisation and improve quality of life. Moving on from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is planned that this programme will also include a few cardiac rehabilitation exercise specialists able to personalise fitness programmes within trust gyms across Fife.”

Emma Walker, chief executive of Fife Sports and Leisure Trust, said: “The trust is hugely proud of Sheona’s academic achievements and as a valued member of the health and wellbeing team, we are very appreciative of her experience, insight and expertise which is helping us to tailor our CHD programme so that local people are getting the support they need at community level which will deliver real improvements to health outcomes.”

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