Prof Karen Birch

BSc, Liverpool, PhD 1995, Liverpool John Moores
Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Professor of Exercise Science
School of Biomedical Sciences

Background: BSc (Hons)Movement Science: Liverpool University, 1990. PhD Exercise Physiology: Liverpool John Moores University, 1995. Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Exercise Science, Manchester Metropolitan University, 1993-2002. Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology, University of Leeds, 2002 ?. Member of Physoc, ACSM.

Contact: Garstang 5.67, +44(0) 113 34 36713/34272, email address for  

You can read more about Prof Birch's interests here:

Research Interests

Endothelial integrity, female reproductive hormones, exercise and cardiovascular disease


My research group comprises a team of researchers with an intense focus on investigation of the interplay between endothelial/vascular function, female reproductive hormone fluctuation, exercise/physical activity, aging and cardiovascular disease. This work involves collaboration with the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular Medicine and Division of Medical Physics at the Leeds General Infirmary, the Academic Dept. Obstetrics and Gyneacology, St James’s University Hospital, the Dept. Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease, University of Sheffield, the Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Royal Infirmary, the Research Institute of Sport and Exercise Sciences, John Moores University and the Dept. Physiology, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The techniques utilised by the team include cardiopulmonary exercise tests, echocardiography and MRI for assessment of  ventricular structure and function and 4D flow, doppler ultrasonography for assessment of haemodynamics and endothelial function, applanation tonnometry for assessment of arterial stiffness, flow cytometry and cell culture for assessment of endothelial progenitor cell (or angiogenic cell) mobilization and function.

  • The endothelial surface of the lumen of blood vessels is constantly exposed to haemodynamic shear stress and the modulation of endothelial phenotype by these local haemodynamic conditions has been postulated to contribute towards  the progression of atherosclerosis. We are interested in how exercise can alter the patterns, magnitudes and volumes of  shear stress and have manipulated these using exercise of differing types and intensities (Harris et al.,  2014;Rakobowchuk et al., 2013). We are currently assessing the impact of differing shear rates recorded along the aortic arch during exercise of differing intensities in the MRI. The impact of interval exercise upon shear rates and endothelial progenitor cell mobilization and function will be reviewed in an invited symposium to ECSS (2017).


  • The hormone oestrogen has potent effects upon the vasculature that are seen to influence haemodynamics. These effects are often tempered by the ovarian steroid progesterone. We have investigated the influence of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle and oral contraceptive cycle upon post-exercise hypotension. Having indicated the lack of effect of exogenous hormones (Birch et al., 2002: Experimental Physiology) we were the first group to highlight that, rather than increase the magnitude of post-exercise hypotension, oestrogen and progesterone appears to buffer the hypotension in the late follicular and mid luteal phases of the menstrual cycle (Esformes et al. 2005: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and ACSM Annual Congress, 2005). The impact of fluctuating hormones upon health and performance in premenopausal women has been highlighted further in an invited clinical review for the British Medical Journal (Birch, 2005), Chapters in the British Medical Association ABC of Sports Medicine and in Exercise Physiology in Special Populations (Buckley),  and at invited talks to the Northern Cyprus IVF conference (2015), the British Menopause Society (2008, 2010) and to the Northern Fertility Nurses (2014).


  • Loss of the ovarian hormones at the menopausal transition has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in women. This has been highlighted in a key note, by invitation by the Physiological Society, at both the British Association of Science Annual Congress, Dublin, (2005) and the Association for Science Education (2005). With funding from Heart Research UK we have assessed the impact of a six month exercise training programme upon risk factors for cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women with and without type 2 diabetes. These results have been presented at EuroPrevent (a European Society of Cardiology Congress) in Athens (2006) and Madrid (2007), the annual conference of ECSS (Barcelona (2013) the annual Congress of ACSM  in New Orleans (2007), San Francisco (2012) and Boston (2016) . The most exciting results of these studies were that exercise training can improve endothelial function independently of changes in any other CVD risk factors in these women. We have recently received BHF funding to explore this finding further by assessing the impact of exercise training upon endothelial progenitor cell function and number.

Funding: European Commission FP5, Nuffield Foundation, Heart Research UK, British Heart Foundation, The Dunhill Medical Trust,   NIHR, MRC, EPSRC



Faculty Research and Innovation

Studentship information

Undergraduate project topics:

  • Exercise Prescription
  • Physical activity and health
  • Cardiovascular disease and exercise
  • Exercise and the endothelium

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Interval exercise and shear stress responses
  • Cardiac rehabilitation and endothelial response
  • Myocardial perfusion and exercise
  • Physical activity and stroke
  • Endothelial progenitor cells and exercise in heart failure, aging and diabetes
  • Endothelial cell responses to exercise related shear

See also:

Modules managed

SPSC3301 - Inter-disciplinary Issues in Sport and Exercise Science
SPSC5203M - Physical Activity, Health and Exercise Prescription

Modules taught

SPSC3061 - Research Project in Sport and Exercise Science II
SPSC3301 - Inter-disciplinary Issues in Sport and Exercise Science
SPSC3321 - Advanced Exercise Physiology
SPSC3326 - Exercise Prescription for Health and Disease

Academic roles

Head of School - Head of School of Biomedical Sciences from 1st April 2017

Centre membership: The Multidisciplinary Cardiovascular Research Centre (MCRC)

Group Leader Prof Karen Birch  (Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Professor of Exercise Science )

Endothelial integrity, female reproductive hormones, exercise and cardiovascular disease 

Miss Gemma Lyall  (Research Fellow in Exercise Physiology)


Jennifer Airlie (Primary supervisor) 50% FTE
Abigail Cook (Primary supervisor) 70% FTE
Said Ibeggazene (Primary supervisor) 60% FTE
Gemma Lyall (Primary supervisor) 40% FTE
Molly Baldwin (Co-supervisor) 40% FTE
Thomas Clarke (Co-supervisor) 50% FTE
Nicola Cornwall (Co-supervisor) 33% FTE
Matthew Davies (Co-supervisor) 20% FTE
Lu Li (Co-supervisor) 50% FTE

Rakobowchuk M, Harris E, Taylor A, Cubbon RM, Birch KM Moderate and heavy metabolic stress interval training improve arterial stiffness and heart rate dynamics in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol 113 839-849, 2013
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Rakobowchuk M, Harris E, Taylor A, Baliga V, Cubbon RM, Rossiter HB, Birch KM Heavy and moderate interval exercise training alters low-flow-mediated constriction but does not increase circulating progenitor cells in healthy humans Experimental Physiology 97 375-385, 2012
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O'Mahoney L, Matu J, Price OJ, Kime N, Birch KM, Ajjan RA, Farrar D, West DJ, Deighton K, Campbell MD The impact of omega-3 fatty acid intake on indices of glycaemic control in patients with Type 2 diabetes: Insights from a metaanalysis, 2018

O'Mahoney L, Matu J, Price OJ, Kime N, Birch KM, Ajjan RA, Tapp R, West DJ, Deighton K, Campbell MD The influence of omega-3 fatty acid intake on lipid profiles, inflammatory parameters, and blood pressure in Type 2 diabetes: Insights from a meta-analysis, 2018

Campbell MD, Walker M, Ajjan RA, Birch KM, Gonzalez JT, West DJ An additional bolus of rapid-acting insulin to normalise postprandial cardiovascular risk factors following a high-carbohydrate high-fat meal in patients with type 1 diabetes: A randomised controlled trial Diabetes and Vascular Disease Research 14 336-344, 2017
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Forster A, Airlie J, Birch K, Cicero R, Cundill B, Ellwood A, Godfrey M, Graham L, Green J, Hulme C, Lawton R, McLellan V, McMaster N, Farrin A Research Exploring Physical Activity in Care Homes (REACH): Study protocol for a randomised controlled trial Trials 18, 2017
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Ferguson C, Birch KM, Garnham JO, Witte KK Exercise training: The under developed elixir vitae of chronic disease? Diabetes and Vascular Disease Research 14 113-115, 2017

Campbell MD, Walker M, Ajjan R, Birch KM, Shaw JA, Stevenson EJ, West DJ A comparison of the postprandial metabolic, inflammatory, and procoagulant responses following ingestion of a high-carbohydrate, high-fat meal in people with and without Type 1 diabetes, 2017

Harris E, Rakobowchuk M, Birch KM Interval exercise increases angiogenic cell function in postmenopausal women. BMJ open sport&exercise medicine 3 e000248-, 2017
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Gray SR, Ferguson C, Birch K, Forrest LJ, Gill JMR High-intensity interval training: Key data needed to bridge the gap from laboratory to public health policy British Journal of Sports Medicine 50 1231-1232, 2016

Davies MJ, Benson AP, Birch KM, Rossiter HB, Ferguson C Power Reserve at the Limit of Ramp-incremental Exercise is Affected by Incrementation Rate, 2016

Barber SE, Forster A, Birch KM Levels and Patterns of Daily Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Measured Objectively in Older Care Home Residents in the United Kingdom JOURNAL OF AGING AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY 23 133-143, 2015

Harris E, Rakobowchuk M, Birch KM Sprint interval and sprint continuous training increases circulating CD34<sup>+</sup>cells and cardio-respiratory fitness in young healthy women PLoS ONE 9, 2014
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Rakobowchuk M, Parsloe ER, Gibbins SE, Harris E, Birch KM Prolonged Low Flow Reduces Reactive Hyperemia and Augments Low Flow Mediated Constriction in the Brachial Artery Independent of the Menstrual Cycle PLOS ONE 8, 2013

Rakobowchuk M, Harris E, Taylor A, Baliga V, Cubbon RM, Rossiter HB, Birch KM Heavy and moderate intensity exercise training alters low-flow-mediated constriction but does not increase circulating progenitor cells in healthy humans (vol 97, pg 375, 2012) EXPERIMENTAL PHYSIOLOGY 98 349-349, 2013

Ferguson C, Wilson J, Birch KM, Kemi OJ Application of the speed-duration relationship to normalize the intensity of high-intensity interval training. PLoS One 8, 2013
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Barber SE, Birch KM, Forster A Levels and patterns of daily physical activity and sedentary behaviour measured objectively in older care home residents in the UK JOURNAL OF AGING AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY 20 S251-S252, 2012

Oxborough D, George K, Birch KM Intraobserver reliability of two-dimensional ultrasound derived strain imaging in the assessment of the left ventricle, right ventricle, and left atrium of healthy human hearts. Echocardiography 29 793-802, 2012
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Birch KM Comprehensive Vascular Function Testing Across The Menstrual Cycle MEDICINE AND SCIENCE IN SPORTS AND EXERCISE 44 728-728, 2012

Rakobowchuk M, Parsloe ER, Gibbins SE, Harris E, Birch KM Forearm Ischemia-reperfusion Injury Reduces FMD but Augments L-FMC Irrespective of Menstrual Cycle Phase MEDICINE AND SCIENCE IN SPORTS AND EXERCISE 44 382-382, 2012

Harris E, Rakobowchuk M, Birch KM Sprint Interval and Sprint Continuous Training Improves Aerobic Fitness but not Vascular Function or Repair MEDICINE AND SCIENCE IN SPORTS AND EXERCISE 44 733-734, 2012

Oxborough D, Sharma S, Shave R, Whyte G, Birch K, Artis N, Batterham AM, George K The right ventricle of the endurance athlete: the relationship between morphology and deformation. J Am Soc Echocardiogr 25 263-271, 2012
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Bowen TS, Cannon DT, Murgatroyd SR, Birch KM, Witte KK, Rossiter HB The intramuscular contribution to the slow oxygen uptake kinetics during exercise in chronic heart failure is related to the severity of the condition. J Appl Physiol (1985) 112 378-387, 2012
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George KP, Birch KM, Pennell DJ, Myerson SG Erratum to "Magnetic-resonance-imaging-derived indices for the normalization of left ventricular morphology by body size" [Magn Reson Imaging 27 (2009) 207-213] Magnetic Resonance Imaging 29 889-, 2011

George KP, Birch KM, Pennell DJ, Myerson SG Magnetic-resonance-imaging-derived indices for the normalization of left ventricular morphology by body size (vol 27, pg 207, 2009) MAGN RESON IMAGING 29 889-889, 2011

Batterham AM, George KP, Birch KM, Pennell DJ, Myerson SG Growth of Left Ventricular Mass with Military Basic Training in Army Recruits MED SCI SPORT EXER 43 1295-1300, 2011

Oxbourough D, Shave R, Warburton D, Williams K, Oxborough A, Charlesworth S, Foulds H, Hoffman MD, Birch K, George K Dilatation and dysfunction of the right ventricle immediately after ultraendurance exercise: exploratory insights from conventional two-dimensional and speckle tracking echocardiography. Circ Cardiovasc Imaging 4 253-263, 2011
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Artis NJ, Oxborough DL, Birch KM, Williams G, Tan LB, Pepper CB Short-Axis 2D Strain from Speckle Tracking Predicts Echocardiographic Response to Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy ECHOCARDIOGR-J CARD 28 76-84, 2011

Oxborough D, Birch K, Shave R, George K Exercise-induced cardiac fatigue-A review of the echocardiographic literature Echocardiography 27 1130-1140, 2010
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Oxborough D, Whyte G, Wilson M, O'Hanlon R, Birch K, Shave R, Smith G, Godfrey R, Prasad S, George K A Depression in Left Ventricular Diastolic Filling following Prolonged Strenuous Exercise is Associated with Changes in Left Atrial Mechanics J AM SOC ECHOCARDIOG 23 968-976, 2010

Cubbon RM, Murgatroyd SR, Ferguson C, Bowen TS, Rakobowchuk M, Baliga V, Cannon D, Rajwani A, Abbas A, Kahn M, Birch KM, Porter KE, Wheatcroft SB, Rossiter HB, Kearney MT Human Exercise-Induced Circulating Progenitor Cell Mobilization Is Nitric Oxide-Dependent and Is Blunted in South Asian Men ARTERIOSCL THROM VAS 30 878-U626, 2010

Artis NJ, Oxborough DL, Birch KM, Gale CP, Williams G, Tan LB, Pepper CB Time delay to achieve peak circumferential strain rate predicts an echocardiographic response to CRT EUROPEAN HEART JOURNAL 30 945-945, 2009

Oxborough D, Batterham AM, Shave R, Artis N, Birch KM, Whyte G, Ainslie PN, George KP Interpretation of two-dimensional and tissue Doppler-derived strain (epsilon) and strain rate data: is there a need to normalize for individual variability in left ventricular morphology? EUR J ECHOCARDIOGR 10 677-682, 2009

Birch KM, Esformes JE The Exercising Female In Exercise Physiology in Special Populations, 2008

Thom JM, Morse CI, Birch KM, Narici MV Influence of muscle architecture on the torque and power-velocity characteristics of young and elderly men EUR J APPL PHYSIOL 100 613-619, 2007

Morse CI, Thom JM, Mian OS, Birch KM, Narici MV Gastrocnemius specific force is increased in elderly males following a 12-month physical training programme EUR J APPL PHYSIOL 100 563-570, 2007

Esformes JI, Norman F, Sigley J, Birch KM The influence of menstrual cycle phase upon postexercise hypotension MED SCI SPORT EXER 38 484-491, 2006

Morse CI, Thom JM, Mian OS, Muirhead A, Birch KM, Narici MV Muscle strength, volume and activation following 12-month resistance training in 70-year-old males EUR J APPL PHYSIOL 95 197-204, 2005

Morse CI, Thom JM, Reeves ND, Birch KM, Narici MV In vivo physiological cross-sectional area and specific force are reduced in the gastrocnemius of elderly men J APPL PHYSIOL 99 1050-1055, 2005

Thom JM, Morse CI, Birch KM, Narici MV Triceps surae muscle power, volume, and quality in older versus younger healthy men J GERONTOL A-BIOL 60 1111-1117, 2005

Esformes JI, Bird K, Cornes J, Norman F, Roberts A, Sigley J, Birch KM Influence Of Menstrual Cycle Phase Upon Gender Differences In Post Exercise Hypotension MED SCI SPORT EXER 37 S216-S216, 2005

Morse CI, Thom JM, Birch KM, Narici MV Changes in triceps surae muscle architecture with sarcopenia ACTA PHYSIOL SCAND 183 291-298, 2005

Birch K, MaClaren D, George K Instant Notes in Sports and Exercise Physiology., 2005

Morse CI, Thom JM, Birch KM, Narici MV Tendon elongation influences the amplitude of interpolated doublets in the assessment of activation in elderly men J APPL PHYSIOL 98 221-226, 2005

Birch KM ABC of sports and exercise medicine - Female athlete triad British Medical Journal 330 244-246, 2005

Morse CI, Thom JM, Davis MG, Fox KR, Birch KM, Narici MV Reduced plantarflexor specific torque in the elderly is associated with a lower activation capacity EUR J APPL PHYSIOL 92 219-226, 2004

Birch KM, Cable N, George K Combined oral contraceptives do not influence post-exercise hypotension in women Experimental Physiology 87 623-632, 2002

Birch KM, Reilly T The diurnal rhythm in isometric muscular performance differs with eumenorrheic menstrual cycle phase Chronobiology International 19 731-742, 2002
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Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Fowler NE, Birch KM Repeatabilibty of Measurement variability in determining stature in sitting and standing postures Ergonomics 44 1076-1085, 2002

Rodacki CL, Fowler NE, Rodacki AL, Birch KM Stature loss and recovery in pregnant women with and without low back pain. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2002

Buckley J, Jones S, Birch KM Oxygen consumption during ambulation: Comparison of using a prosthesis fitted with and without a tele-torsion device Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 83 576-581, 2002
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Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Fowler NE, Birch KM Measurement of variability in determining stature in sitting and standing postures Ergonomics 1076-1085, 2001

George KP, Birch KM, Jones B, Lea R Estrogen variation and resting left ventricular structure and function in young healthy females. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32 297-303, 2000
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Burns-Salmond SS, Birch KM, George KP, Cable NT Effects of opposed and unopposed ethinyl oestradiol upon resting and post-exertional haemodynamics Journal of Sports Sciences 18 528-529, 2000

Birch KM, Reilly T Manual handling performance: the effects of menstrual cycle phase. Ergonomics 42 1317-1332, 1999
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George KP, Gates PE, Birch KM, Campbell IG Left ventricular morphology and function in endurance-trained female athletes. J Sports Sci 17 633-642, 1999
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Birch KM, Reilly T The effect of eumenorrheic menstrual cycle phase on physiological responses to a repeated lifting task. Can J Appl Physiol 22 148-160, 1997
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Phillips SK, Sanderson AG, Birch K, Bruce SA, Woledge RC Changes in maximal voluntary force of human adductor pollicis muscle during the menstrual cycle. The Journal of physiology 496 ( Pt 2) 551-557, 1996
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Batterham AM, Birch KM Allometry of anaerobic performance: a gender comparison. Can J Appl Physiol 21 48-62, 1996
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Birch K, Sinnerton S, Reilly T, Lees A The relation between isometric lifting strength and muscular fitness measures. Ergonomics 37 87-93, 1994
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