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Age related changes in cognitive and exercise performance under stress

Project Description


• To investigate the association between cognitive performance and current perceived stress level in 50-65 year olds in comparison to young adults (aged 18-25).
• To identify biological and behavioural markers of these association.
• To investigate changes in perceived effort during exercise in relation to perceived stress and cognitive performance.
• To investigate within individuals changes in cognitive and exercise performance in response to naturally occurring stressors.


The project would be broken down into 2 linked studies, a large cross-sectional study and a smaller longitudinal study. Participants will be recruited within Greater Manchester and consist of healthy adults aged 50-65 or 18-25.

The cross-sectional study
Section 1: Self-report questionnaires and saliva collection for genetic and biomarker analysis

Questionnaires will be adapted from those used by NEWMOOD and the UK biobank and include demographic, lifestyle, health and cognitive and current perceived stress data, allowing the comparisons with existing older populations. As well as examining life-time stress exposure and exercise habits.

Section 2: Cognitive and exercise performance testing
The Montreal Imaging Stress Test (MIST) is a mild experimentally induced stressor similar to a short arithmetic exam.
Cognitive testing: aspects of executive function, including working memory, cognitive flexibility and selective attention will be run either side of the MIST to test for changes in cognitive performance.
Physiological measures: heart rate, electrodermal activity, and prefrontal cortex activity using a functional near-infrared spectroscopy will be monitored throughout the study.
Biological marks: Blood samples will be taken and exhaled nitric oxide measured pre- and post-testing.
Exercise testing: The interpolated twitch technique will be used to examine difference in voluntary and maximal force production as a measure of perceived effort.

The longitudinal study
A sub-group of 60 participants from each cohort the will be recruited to attend 3 lab session to repeat cognitive and exercise testing carried out in the cross-sectional study over a 1 year period, as well as participate in ongoing self-report data and saliva collection.

Biological studies
• Baseline genetic and epigenetics
• Changes in mRNA and micro-RNA in response to stress.
• Variation in stress-related biomarkers, including inflammatory markers, cortisol and oxytocin.

This study draws expertise from a number of disciplines and previous studies have not linked these techniques or used them in an environment where participants are naturally exposed to relatively uniform periods of stress and relaxation. These samples and data will also form the basis of a new biobank. Additionally this work may lead to new treatments or stress-reduction and exercise based interventions that could improve the lives of older adults


Applicants must apply using the online form on the University Alliance website at Full details of the programme, eligibility details and a list of available research projects can be seen at

The final deadline for application is 12 April 2019.

Funding Notes

DTA3/COFUND participants will be employed for 36 months with a minimum salary of (approximately) £20,989 per annum. Tuition fees will waived for DTA3/COFUND participants who will also be able to access an annual DTA elective bursary to enable attendance at DTA training events and interact with colleagues across the Doctoral Training Alliance(s).
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 801604.

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