Cognitively enriched walking interventions for older adults to boost cognitive plasticity

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


July 11, 2021


Cognitively enriched walking interventions for older adults to boost

cognitive plasticity

(ref. BAP-2021-476)

Last modification : Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Department of Movement Sciences is looking for an enthusiastic, motivated doctoral candidate with special interest in the role of active living for healthy ageing for our project ‘Cognitively enriched walking interventions for older adults to boost cognitive plasticity' funded by Research Foundation – Flanders. This project is a joint PhD between Ghent University and the KU Leuven. Within KU Leuven, the project is embedded in the Physical Activity, Sport and Health Research Group within the Department of Movement Sciences.

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Dementia currently affects more than 47 million people worldwide and it is forecasted that the prevalence will triple by 2050. Moreover, dementia has been reported to be one of the most costly disorders for the Belgium healthcare system. There is good scientific evidence that the cognitive impairments associated with the development of dementia can be lessened or even reversed because of the plasticity of the brain (rewiring). Recent research has shown that physical activity combined with performing cognitively challenging tasks is a very potent way to induce this rewiring of the brain that can enable people to improve cognitive functions. Yet, so far, this evidence is based mainly on controlled laboratory conditions.

In this project, we will translate this laboratory-based evidence into a real- life intervention (phase 1) and investigate the effectiveness of this intervention (phase 2). Phase 1 has now been completed. In phase one we extended a proven, evidence-based physical activity program for the older adults by adding cognitive tasks. The resulting cognitively enriched walking program has been developed in collaboration with older adults, health professionals and scientists. Phase 2 is a pilot study of the developed program, followed by a randomized controlled study. In this RCT, the effectiveness of the new program on cognitive functioning of older adults will be investigated.

  • You obtained a Master's degree in Physical Education and Movement Sciences, Psychology, Rehabilitation Sciences, Health Sciences, or another relevant degree
  • You have a strong interest in physical activity and health and affinity with older adults
  • You achieved excellent results during your educational program
  • You have excellent oral and written communication skills, both in Dutch and English, and are able to communicate well with colleagues and older adults
  • You have good organizational and project management skills
  • You are capable of taking initiative, you enjoy working in teams as well as independently, and you respect deadlines
  • Job description

  • Doing scientific research in preparation of a PhD thesis (see project description): organization of the studies, recruitment and follow-up of participants, data collection and statistical analysis, writing scientific papers
  • Supervising of Bachelor and Master thesis students within the research domain
  • Teaching assistance for the faculty members of the Department of Movement Sciences
  • Offer

    We offer the successful candidate a full-time employment (initially for 1 year with a possible extension up to a maximum of 4 years, provided a positive evaluation). The research should result in a doctoral thesis. This is a joint PhD with Ghent University. Preferred starting date is 16 August 2021, but is possible up to 1 September 2021. Within the KU Leuven, successful completion of the PhD program will result in a doctoral degree in Biomedical Sciences. The candidate will be associated with the doctoral school of Biomedical Sciences and enrolled in the thematic track ‘Exercise and Physical Activity in Health and Disease'.


    For more information please contact Prof. dr. Jannique van Uffelen, tel.: +32 16 37 30 97, mail: or Prof. dr. Jan Seghers, tel.: +32 16 32 90 48, mail:

    In order to apply, you will have to upload a motivation letter, including your motivation to do a doctoral training on the topic of ‘active and healthy ageing' and this specific project, as well as your CV (including your grades).

    Interviews will take place on July 7, 8 or 9.

    KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at