Prof. Catherine Woods is the lead of the HRI's Physical Activity for Health Centre and a lecturer in the department of Physical Education and Sport Science.

She enjoys developing and testing theoretically sound interventions to change population levels of physical activity, and seeks better, more systematic methods of bringing research, practice and policy closer together to achieve real and sustainable impact.  Prof. Woods believes that physical activity is a best buy for public health as it has the potential to improve health and wellbeing for everyone, irrespective of age, ability or condition. 

Professor Woods has led - as Principal or Co-Investigator – successful grant applications generating a total income of €14,100,242 (€4,070,512 to UL/DCU).   

Professor Woods has successfully trained 10 PhD and 6 MSc research students, and currently has one research fellow and five post-doctoral researchers, four full-time research assistants and five PhD students within her Physical Activity for Health Research team.  This team have published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and presented at >30 (inter)national conferences.

Research Interests

Prof Woods' area of expertise is Physical Activity for Health.  Her research is framed within the social-ecological model and consequently, she works across individual, interpersonal, community and policy levels. This multi-level approach is necessary to understand and influence population levels of physical activity for health; however, it requires extensive knowledge and an appreciation for inter-disciplinary work.  Current research priorities are listed below with an example of ongoing projects in each priority area.

  • The promotion of physical activity and healthy lifestyles in clinical and older adult populations.
  • Understanding the determinants of physical activity in children and young people, and developing evidence-based interventions to promote physical activity in this cohort.
  • Physical activity policy evaluation and development.

Clinical and Older Adult Populations

Prof Woods chaired a working group tasked by the Health Services Executive to develop a National Exercise Referral Framework (NERF).  The NERF provides individuals living with non-communicable diseases three levels of support; level 1 - high-support centre-based activity, level 2 is medium-support community-based activity and level 3 is independent, self-managed home-based exercise.  (see:…...).

Prof. Woods developed a community-based chronic illness rehabilitation programme in UL as a partnership between Limerick, Ennis and Nenagh hospitals.  MedEx UL caters provides high level support (NERF Level 1) for individuals living with cardiovascular disease.  The focus is on learning self-management strategies, underpinned by structured exercise, as a form of secondary prevention. Prof. Woods’ research aligned to MedEx has involved studying the key factors responsible for sustaining long term adherence to MedEx, this information has been used to design an intervention to enhance recruitment and retention to the programme.  Examining NERF level 3 (home-based arm), research through PATHway (Physical Activity Towards Health) a Horizon 2020 €4.9 million research project.  PAHway combined the work of nine partners (from 7 different countries) to provide individualised mHealth (mobile health) rehabilitation pathways for individuals living with established cardiovascular disease (CVD).  The primary aim was to increase daily minutes of physical activity, underpinned by behavioural change theory and using innovative technology for intervention delivery.

The ‘Move for Life project’ (, is funded by the Health Services Executive, Healthy Ireland and Atlantic Philanthropies and is a collaboration with Local Sports Partnerships, Healthy Limerick, Age friendly Limerick and Clare and the HSE.  Its purpose is to develop an intervention to increase physical activity in inactive adults aged 50+.  700+ adults across counties Clare and Limerick engaged in the study, with 601 meeting study inclusion criteria (>50 years and inactive). 

Children & Young People

The Healthy Ireland Demonstration Project aims to develop and test the feasibility of a complex school-based intervention targeting the main modifiable risk factors for prevention of noncommunicable diseases, in particular physical inactivity and poor diet. The multiple components of this intervention will be developed from existing evidence-based programmes, behavior change theory and (inter)national collaborations.  Although in its early stages, this project which is a collaboration between UL, UCD, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health, has already secured funding for intervention development and feasibility testing of the Active School Flag post primary programme (

The Childrens’ Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA) study, provides a 9-year follow-up to the original CSPPA study.  Its purpose to provide important surveillance data on the physical activity behaviours and their determinants in school-aged children.  Questionnaire, physical health and qualitative data were collected on a representative sample of 6,651, 10-18 year olds from 115 schools across Ireland.  Prof. Woods co-ordinated this complex multi-site study in collaboration with Dublin City University (DCU), University of Ulster and University College Cork. This research was funded by Sport Ireland, Healthy Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland.

Keeping Youngsters Involved. (…).  The project 'Keep Youngsters Involved' aims to find answers to the question: ‘How can we prevent youngsters (age 12-19) from dropout from sport?’. In many European countries we see that a lot of youngsters give up sport due to a lack of motivation, problems with school or job schedule or different interests. The project targets youngsters (12-19 years) in general and specifically those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

The six international project partners want to increase and share knowledge by creating a common understanding of effective and practice-based elements, partner countries are able to share their good practices and interventions.  The project is funded by the European Commission. It is a collaborative partnership project in the Erasmus+ Sport programme (2016). The project will take place from 1 January 2017 until 30 September 2019.

Physical Activity Policy

Prof. Woods is vice co-ordinator of a Joint Programme Initiative, Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life; the Policy Evaluation Network (  This network of 28 research groups across Europe is examining the impact of public policy on improving healthy eating, physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour.  This research is funded by the Health Research Board.

The I-PARC project (Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration) jointly led by Prof. Woods and Dr. Fiona Mansergh (Healthy Ireland), will bring together researchers, policy makers and practitioners from PA in order to develop a systematic method for identifying examples of effective PA interventions and effective implementation strategies ( This adheres to the National Implementation Research Network’s formula for success “Effective Interventions X Effective Implementation Methods X Enabling Context = Socially Significant Outcomes”.   Ireland's National Physical Activity Plan provides the enabling context for PA interventions, however we know little about how to identify effective interventions and even less about effective implementation strategies applicable to the Irish context.  This research is funded by the Health Research Board.


O'Regan A; Glynn L; Garcia Bengoechea E; Casey M; Clifford A; Donnelly A; Murphy AW; Gallagher S; Gillespie P; Newell J; Harkin M; Macken P; Sweeney J; Foley-Walsh M; Quinn G; Ng K; O'Sullivan N; Balfry G; Woods C; (2019) An evaluation of an intervention designed to help inactive adults become more active with a peer mentoring component: a protocol for a cluster randomised feasibility trial of the Move for Life programme.  BMC: Pilot And Feasibility Studies.  10.1186/s40814-019-0473-y

Klepac Pogrmilovic, B., O’Sullivan, G., Milton, K., Biddle, S.j. Bauman, A., Bellew, W., Cavill, N., Kahlmeier, S., Kelly, M.P., Mutrie, N., Pratt, M., Rutter, H., Ramirez Varela, A., Woods, C. and Zelijko, P. (2019). The development of the Comprehensive Analysis of Policy on Physical Activity (CAPPA) framework. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 16, 60 (2019) doi:10.1186/s12966-019-0822-5

Ng K.; McHale F.; Cotter K.; O'Shea D.; Woods C. (2019) Feasibility study of the secondary level active school flag programme: Study protocol.  Journal Of Functional Morphology And Kinesiology.  10.3390/jfmk4010016

Murphy, J.J., Woods, C.B., Murphy, M.H., Murphy, N., Byrne, N. and MacDonncha, C. 2019. Student Activity and Sport Study Ireland: Protocol for a Web-Based Survey and Environmental Audit Tool for Assessing the Impact of Multiple Factors on University Students’ Physical Activity. JMIR research protocols, 8(2), p.e10823.  doi:10.2196/10823

Marie MurphyAngela CarlinCatherine WoodsCiaran MacDonncha and Niamh Murphy. (2018)  Active Students Are Healthier and Happier Than Their Inactive Peers: A Large Representative Cross-Sectional Study of University Students in Ireland. JPAH. Volume:0 Issue: 0 Pages:1-10 doi: 10.1123/jpah.2017-0432.