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Enterprise Intern and PhD student Zsofia Szekeres has been helping to develop an innovative digital tool

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We spoke to Zsofia and Lisa about bringing together research and innovative ideas to create an innovative digital tool designed to encourage people to get active

LSBU's Enterprise Internship

LSBU’s enterprise intern programme is just one of the University’s many efforts to provide students with opportunities to gain real-life, practical experience during their studies.

Focused on giving students the chance to contribute to the development of commercial projects at LSBU, students develop their research skills and specific subject knowledge while gaining valuable commercial experience by helping to develop an idea for the market. Their active involvement can range from conducting market research through to assisting with product development or testing. LSBU staff with commercial ideas can access this support from enterprise interns to help get their ideas off the ground.

Zsofia has really helped with the project by networking with a number of different stakeholders and, because her PhD project sits nicely in line with the project’s aims, the understanding she has of the topic has contributed greatly.

- Dr Lisa Zaidell

The 120-hour internships allow the students to gain valuable commercial experience in all areas, from factors impacting an idea’s development to practical insights into what is involved in taking an idea or product to market.

Match-Fit, the evidence based digital tool

An example of this is the Match-Fit project led by Dr Lisa Zaidell, which aims to develop an innovative digital tool that matches an individual to local physical activity programmes, based on their personal characteristics and peer group preferences or behaviour. Match-Fit is based on the importance of getting referral right from the start by identifying an exercise programme most likely to make a good impression on the individual and encouraging them to continue with the programme. This is based on evidence that people are more likely to adhere to an exercise programme if they perceive they share similar characteristics with the programme group members.

“Despite the widely reported health benefits of physical activity (PA) the majority of the UK population, especially older adults, remain inactive. The health burden of inactivity is huge and the direct financial cost to the NHS alone is estimated to be greater than £900 million,” says Dr Zaidell.

“Recently, the government admitted that it is 'woefully underprepared' for our rapidly ageing population, and so there is therefore an inherent need to address physical inactivity in older adults through promoting PA opportunities and increasing PA engagement. While GP referral is a common strategy to target inactivity in older populations, lack of time and knowledge of exercise and local PA providers are typical factors preventing referral by clinicians. Further, adherence to PA programmes is low in older adults as most programmes fail to meet their specific needs related to gender, age, ethnicity, education and health.”

The applications of Match-Fit

As an evidence-based digital tool, Match-Fit is designed primarily to facilitate GP ‘social prescribing’ to PA programmes, providing a user-friendly convenient method for promoting exercise referral within practice. Match-Fit also has clear applications for the general online domain linked with local health organisations and council websites, and will allow users to find appropriate activity programmes suited to their needs. It also possesses scope to provide an evaluation service for local PA providers to improve service delivery.

The project gives me experience of working in an academic environment and an opportunity to review current literature about adherence to exercise in older adults, which has helped me to develop my PhD plan. The intern scheme offers a chance to get involved with projects that link together scientific research and innovative ideas with societal impact.

- Zsofia Szekeres

Getting an enterprise intern on board

“I decided to enlist the help of an intern with this project to help review determinants of physical activity participation in older adults and provide the scientific evidence base for Match-Fit. The intern researched local physical activity opportunities within Southwark and Lambeth and liaised with a number of physical activity providers in order to understand and develop the next phases of the project. Because there is a lot of literature to read through to understand the factors that we need to consider for Match-Fit’s algorithm development, finding an intern such as Zsofia, who would benefit from this literature review, made it a good symbiotic relationship,” explains Dr Zaidell.

Zsofia Szekeres, who is a part-time Applied Science PhD student, says that, as her research looks at the benefits of exercise on older adults’ cognitive health and emotional wellbeing and the adherence factors to exercise, becoming involved with Match-Fit was therefore a great opportunity to undertake preliminary work for her own project.

Zsofia's perspective

“The project is really interesting and has a promising strategy,” she says. “Although my own project plan has slightly changed, I still see an opportunity to link it with the Match-Fit development. The project gives me experience of working in an academic environment and an opportunity to review current literature about adherence to exercise in older adults, which has helped me to develop my PhD plan. The intern scheme offers a chance to get involved with projects that link together scientific research and innovative ideas with societal impact, which is obviously a really good thing.”

Helping to get results

“Zsofia has really helped with the project by networking with a number of different stakeholders and, because her PhD project sits nicely in line with the project’s aims, the understanding she has of the topic has contributed greatly,” adds Dr Zaidell. “Zsofia is also currently working with one of our stakeholders, SilverFit, a charity dedicated to improving wellbeing of older adults through physical activity participation. As a result, she is ideally positioned to work between the university and in the community with older adults themselves.

“The impact of this input is that, together, we have worked on understanding the need for the Match-Fit tool by researching what is currently out there in terms of physical activity signposting. We have also talked with several people to learn about the needs of older adults and the need for such a novel signposting tool. This has helped to refine the project aims and the development needs of the tool. Because Zsofia comes from a health psychology background, it complements the project and my expertise in physiological effects of exercise, community physical activity and health very nicely.”

Looking to the future

With the project looking in excellent shape thanks to Zsofia’s input, what does Dr Zaidell hope to see for her Match-Fit concept? “We are seeing more and more how digital health is on the rise, whether for monitoring health status or for behavioural change. People are talking about how data and information can be used in such a way, and so I see Match-Fit as being at the forefront of this for decreasing physical inactivity. I’m very excited about its potential.”

For more information about enterprise internships contact the student enterprise team.

 
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