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Physical and cognitive healthy ageing across life span S&T7

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Project ID: S&T7

Despite an increase in life expectancy worldwide, ageing is associated with deterioration in both physical health and cognition, including motor function (strength, endurance, and mobility). 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 exercise 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.

The proposed project investigates aging in athletes, 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. Specifically, we aim to use athletes as a model of healthy ageing to identify any associated ageing mechanisms that might be offset by physical training. By studying the responses to exercise training, we intend to provide information on the optimal physical and cognitive function of ‘normal’ systems and those perturbed by age-related changes. 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. Particularly, we seek to discover ways in which innovative and personalized interventions might be implemented to improve the lives of older people.

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

  • to recruit physically active (at competitive level), average and sedentary individuals across three age ranges (18-27 years; 28-47 years; 48+ years; approximately n=25 each group)
  • Primary Assessments include psychological function (psychometrics), musculoskeletal physiology and neurocognitive function (MRI, EEG, in particular resting-state brain activation and functional connectivity).
  • Additional assessments might include blood measures (e.g., metabolomics, inflammation and endocrinological measures).
  • to investigate brain and body function relative to exercise group, age, and other lifestyle measures (diet, sleep, stress).
  • to assess the relationships among cognitive and physical function.

Supervisory Team

  • Dr. Daniele Magistro (SL, Physical Activity and Health) is an ECR with experience in multi-disciplinary RCTs, longitudinal and implementation research older adults. He has a strong track record for high-quality publications (over 60 peer reviewed articles, h-index 16, several 3*/4*). He has collaborated on a large MRC project (~£850,000) and on the project “Dementia House”: a world-first demonstrator residential building (
  • Dr. Jessica Piasecki (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 (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.
  • Dr Alexander Sumich (AP, Psychology) has expertise in brain development and alternative interventions for affect-related disorders. He has a strong track record for high-quality publications and grant capture (>80 peer reviewed articles, several 3*/4*, h-index 32, £1m grant capture), and co-leads the APE research group in the Centre for Behavioural Research Methods.

School strategic research priority

This work aligns closely with the aspirations and objectives of the University Strategic Plan, the Health and Wellbeing Theme, the SHAPE Research Centre (strategic aims) and is aligned with the School’s Research and Innovation Plan and the UoA C24 plan by:

  • Contributing to ‘changing our World’ and ‘working across boundaries’ consistent with the University Strategic Plan and by being ‘connected citizens’ with our local Nottingham community and ‘addressing global problems’ such as ageing, lifestyle and prevention.
  • Producing 4* outputs to increase the number and proportion of 4* papers in the REF2028 entry, increasing funding to NTU and raising our international reputation.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

Still need help?

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