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Sport, Health & Wellbeing

A personal PhD journey, with the potential for huge impact

An Assistant Professor in Sport and Exercise Science at UC, Dr Joe Northey first completed the combined Bachelor in Sport and Exercise Science and Bachelor of Human Nutrition, examining recovery from resistance exercises in high performance sports in his Honours year.

At the October 2019 Graduation Ceremony, he realised the next step of his academic journey, as he awarded a PhD.

“Through my undergraduate and Honours years, I knew there was more for me to do, from a study point of view,” he said.

“Now I’m ready to go out and work in academia and research and apply all the things I have learnt.”

In his undergraduate years, Joe worked with adolescent athletes involved with the South East Regional Academy of Sport, but as he ventured towards a PhD, he wanted to make an impact in a totally different area of health. This materialised into a study examining both aerobic and resistance exercises to improve brain health as people age.

The subject matter for his thesis The Ageing Brain: Investigating the Role of Physical Activity Dose on Neurocognitive Health had a meaningful personal aspect.

“My Nan had dementia, and the study was a way to do meaningful research,” he said. “I want to make an impact on more people, and this subject was one that had both a personal and a broader impact.”

Joe’s thesis investigated the optimum dose of physical activity required to enhance cognitive abilities and memory, and the need for resistance training to help in executive function. His study showed that mixing different types of exercise may be the key to keeping our brains fit as we get older.

Just what defines ‘older’ is open to debate, but Joe focused on the exercise habits and brain health of people over 50, who engaged in moderate to vigorous exercise sessions of between 45 to 60 minutes each day.

“My research looked at what type of exercise are important in relation to the brain – aerobic or weights?” he said. “Also, how many times a week exercise needs to occur, and how that exercise is prescribed.”

Joe’s five-year journey from the start of his thesis has had important and precious additional milestones – he became a father twice in his pursuit of a PhD.

The opportunity to graduate with a PhD, surrounded by his family, was incredibly satisfying, given the sacrifices that have made along the way.

“The whole process has been fantastic,” he said. “However, it was nice to put a full stop to a long journey, and to celebrate the ending of almost ten years of study. And it was nice to have the family here as well to celebrate … and to thank them.”

Joe’s research has the potential for an enormous impact on the wider population in the next decade and this opportunity is clear in Joe’s mind.

“The next 10 years will see a huge ageing population, and the insights we can give into the best type of exercise for healthy brain ageing are very relevant,” he said. “It’s all very exciting work from both research and teaching perspectives.”

Photo: supplied

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