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Health and Exercise Science

Tragedy led Christian Heenan to the field of Health and Exercise Science. His eldest brother, Josh, died when he was 24, from throat cancer when Christian was just 13 years old.  Witnessing Josh’s struggles motivated Christian to help those in a similar situation to his brother. 

“I feel as though the health industry focuses mainly on addressing the symptoms of chronic disease and hardly pays attention to underlying lifestyle causes such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management and behaviour change, which is my true passion,” said Christian.

It wasn’t a straight forward path to an undergraduate degree in Health and Exercise Science at University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS). Initially, Christian applied for IT programme, but decided to defer his place to decide what he truly wanted, which brought him to the subject of health and exercise science and UCS.

“This was the only course I had seen which placed a heavy emphasis on gaining practical experience with real clients/patients - 60% of my undergraduate course was practical.

“This course allowed me to secure employment straight after university. Some graduates from sports and exercise related courses struggle to find work after graduating because they are not qualified to prescribe exercise to special populations. To do this you must obtain the essential Level 3 exercise qualifications and Level 4 specialist qualifications. Even with a first-class undergraduate degree, employers will not allow you to work in this industry without these qualifications.

“Fortunately, the course team at UCS were aware of this and built into the course several nationally recognised qualifications, which I was lucky enough to gain during my time at UCS. This makes the recruiting process easier for employers and for UCS graduates as you can easily jump straight into work.”

Christian earned a First Class Honours BSc in Health and Exercise Science and was part of UCS’s first graduating cohort in 2018. He attributes his success to hard work and perseverance. It wasn’t easy, as he had obstacles to overcome from the start of university. When his brother was ill, his family travelled back and forth to England from his home country of New Zealand. Having missed school, he couldn’t take the GCSEs or A-Levels he needed for the Health and Exercise degree.

“Thankfully, the course tutors were willing to take a chance on me. I went from not knowing the first thing about health and exercise physiology to graduating with first-class honours,” said Christian. 

“UCS changed my life for the better! I made lifelong friends, built the foundation of a solid career and was well equipped to start working in the field directly after graduating.”  

One month after earning his BSc, Christian started work as a Health & Wellbeing Physiologist at Nuffield Health. 

“I enjoy seeing a wide variety of clients on a daily basis and helping them improve their health and wellbeing,” said Christian. “Diversity is also important - an average day for me could consist of helping a client improve their athletic performance to helping a pre-diabetic client improve their body composition and glucose levels. I am also fascinated by cardiac physiology.”

His current career path is what he envisioned when he first started university - working with a multi-disciplinary team on something that he was truly passionate about.  

On a daily basis, he conducts comprehensive health assessments as part of a multidisciplinary team of physiologists, doctors, dietitians and physiotherapists. During health assessments, he is responsible for reviewing client’s medical history, body composition, resting blood pressure, as well as completing venepuncture procedures and analysing their electrocardiograms, spirometry, posture, urine, pathology, VO2 Max and heart rate variability.  

Throughout each assessment, he makes sure clients understand their test results and how these can either negatively or positively impact health and wellbeing. He also incorporates motivational interviewing techniques to help clients implement evidence-based lifestyle interventions which help reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve psychological, physiological and emotional wellbeing. 

After discussing lifestyle interventions, he focuses on producing a bespoke lifestyle action plan/report which caters to his individual client’s needs, expectations and goals, while also conducting GP referrals if necessary. 

As Infection Prevention Lead, Christian must maintain a high standard of care for the team and patients by monitoring and improving infection prevention standards where possible.

“Over the past 18 months at Nuffield Health, I have worked at different medical centres throughout London and gained experience working with corporate clients and special populations who suffer with anxiety, depression and burnout,” he said. “I also have experience delivering promotional health events at the Royal Bank of Scotland, discussing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

As the majority of Nuffield’s corporate sites have been closed during the pandemic, physiologists, including Christian, have been placed on furlough. He chose to use his new found time to honour his brother and help others by raising money for Teenage Cancer Trust. 

Earlier this summer, Christian hiked 500 miles in 31 days and raised £1,111 to help those suffering from cancer at a similar age as Josh.

You can read about his journey in My London in an article they entitled, “The insane way this London man is remembering his brother who he lost to cancer”.  

https://www.mylondon.news/news/zone-1-news/insane-way-london-man-remembering-18410009

If you would like to support Christian’s efforts to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust, you can make a contribution on his gofundme page here:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/nkf92u?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unknown&utm_campaign=comms_dj84+nkf92u

Christian’s education did not stop with his undergraduate degree, as he constantly continues to upskill and learn more.

“I am also completing ECG interpretation exams, a level 7 Health & Wellbeing Physiology Diploma and Lab Technician Training,” he said. 

Having also gained valuable experience in a corporate clinical environment, Christian now finds himself at a crossroads, trying to decide between cardiac physiology, focused on exercise prescription for special populations or starting his own online personal training business.

“After being in the industry I’ve realised that there is still so much for me to learn,” he said, “and I am still in the process of achieving a few long-term goals I have set for myself.”

To learn more about UCS Exercise and Science programme, visit our website at:

https://www.ucshrewsbury.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/health-and-exercise-science

 

 

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