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Movement behaviour and cognitive functioning across life span

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: S&T35

Despite an increase in life expectancy worldwide, ageing is associated with deterioration in both motor and cognitive functioning. Changes in brain structure and function with advancing age, including deterioration of prefrontal areas involved in attention, monitoring and control of behaviour, significantly impact activities of daily living and undermine the preservation of physical independence in elderly people. However, age-associated decline in cognition might be ameliorated by some types of physical activity. Nevertheless, the precise mechanisms for the protective benefits of physical activity on aging remain unclear. Thus, differentiating typical ageing from exaggerated age-associated decline due to poor physical activity and other lifestyle factors (sedentariness) can be difficult. One way to disentangle the role of physical activity from other lifestyle factors is to hold physical activity constant, by studying individuals who have been physically active for much of their life.

To understand mechanisms that underpin the role of physical activity and sedentariness across the lifespan, with a view to improving the life of older people. we aim to use athletes as a model of healthy ageing to identify any associated ageing mechanisms that might be offset by physical training. This project aims to bridge a knowledge gap in the understanding of the relationship between lifestyle (physical activity and sedentary behaviour) and cognitive functioning. To this end, the proposed project will compare highly active, average, and sedentary individuals (20-80 years) with the view to understanding the benefits of exercise (and other lifestyle choices) as a function of age, and optimal type of exercise across the adult lifespan. This research will lay the foundations for follow-up research to further develop personalized interventions to improve the quality of life of older people.

The main aim of this project is to investigate the implications of exercise as a lifestyle approach across the lifespan by:

  • Primary Assessments include neurocognitive function (MRI, in particular resting-state brain activation and functional connectivity), psychological function (psychometrics), and musculoskeletal physiology.
  • Additional assessments will include blood measures (e.g., metabolomics, inflammation and endocrinological measures).

Supervisory Team:

  • Dr. Daniele Magistro (NTU-PI - ECR - SL, Physical Activity and Health) is an ECR with experience neuroimaging studies, multi-disciplinary RCTs, longitudinal and implementation research older adults. He has a strong track record for high-quality publications (over 70 peer reviewed articles, h-index 18, several 3*/4*, £500,000 EPSRC grant capture). He is collaborating with Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer and the Dept. Functional Brain Imaging of Tohoku University (JP). Also, he is part the new interdepartmental NTU Neuroimaging Network research group and NTU Ageing network.
  • Dr. Jessica Piasecki (NTU-Co-supervisor - ECR - L, Exercise Physiology) has expertise in musculoskeletal health across the lifespan and examines how exercise may counteract the effects of ageing and inactivity. She is widely published in high-quality, peer-reviewed publications (h-index 13). Her research has attracted ~£30,000 over the previous 3 years.
  • Dr.  John Hough (NTU-Co-supervisor - SL, Exercise Physiology) has expertise in the hormonal and immunological responses to exercise. His research aim is to support and develop the optimisation of individual and group training regimes utilising hormonal and immune markers. He has published in high-quality, peer-reviewed publications (h-index 8). His research has attracted ~£80,000 over the previous 5 years from a number of sources which include but is not limited to The Connolly Foundation and the Society of Endocrinology.
  • Professor Suvo Mitra (NTU-Co-supervisor - Associate Dean for Research School of Social Sciences is a member of the Division of Psychology at NTU. Prof Mitra’s research expertise is on the coordination of movement and its interactions with concurrent mental tasks involving attention, memory, and imagery processes. Prof Mitra has studied the control of body posture and the effects of cognitive load on the body's balance and stability. Mental tasks and balance functions interact more strongly in old age, with implications for falling or withdrawal from active living. Thus, ageing is a key area of current interest in this work. Also, he leads the new interdepartmental NTU Neuroimaging Network research group.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

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