Department for Health

Research student insight

Tom Nightingale

Tom NightingaleTom Nightingale is researching the role of physical activity in the health and wellbeing of disabled wheelchair users, having previously studied for his BSc in Sport and Exercise Science with the Department.

He is being supervised by Dr James Bilzon, who co-supervised his undergraduate dissertation, and Dr Dylan Thompson. Both are experts in the links between physical exercise and health.

Research project

Since graduating from his undergraduate degree, Tom has maintained an ambition to remain in research and welcomed the opportunity to return to the University and work closely with Dr Bilzon again.

Until writing my proposal, I had no experience or knowledge of dealing with disabled populations or the pathophysiology behind certain conditions. I soon discovered that despite Cardio Vascular Disease being the leading cause of mortality in individuals with chronic Spinal Cord Injury’s and occurring earlier in the lifespan in comparison to able-bodied subjects, the effects of regular physical activity on health benefits in persons with a Spinal Cord Injury remains relatively under-published.

In the absence of an existing pool of disabled subjects that he could draw on, Tom has liaised with local sports clubs, support groups and charities to recruit those willing to participate. This has ranged from presenting at a South West Regional disability sport meeting, to participating in a wheelchair basketball training session with Swindon Shocks.

Preliminary results of the research appear to show that activity counts from accelerometers worn on the upper arm are strongly correlated to physical activity energy expenditure in wheelchair users.

“Objective methods offer improvements in accuracy and precision over self-report measures and have become increasingly common in research and practice settings.” Tom plans to use the accelerometers to quantify physical activity patterns in a range of wheelchair user groups with the aim of understanding more fully the mechanisms behind physical activity and Cardio Vascular Disease risk reduction in individuals with a Spinal Cord Injury.

I find what we do extremely rewarding, particularly discovering results which could impact on the wider population and influence health and wellbeing.

As well as receiving individual support from his supervisors, Tom has been regularly attending Human Physiology Research Group meetings, which give researchers the opportunity to present their findings and gain feedback; “although daunting at first these meetings are a great opportunity to bounce ideas off other members of staff”.

Activities outside of research

In addition to his research activities, Tom is gaining valuable experience as a graduate teaching assistant on the Sport and Exercise Science course; although it can be challenging to balance these responsibilities with the demands of his own research.

Having previously studied at Bath, Tom already had an idea of the equipment and facilities that would be at his disposal.

The sport facilities are excellent and it’s nice to have the opportunity to escape the office for an hour to exercise. As a postgraduate you are still made to feel part of the student community as you can join the university societies and sport clubs.

Tom is hoping to gain his PhD and use this as a springboard for a teaching career, ideally within academia.

Further information