Project Details

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Dr Tom Nightingale

Project area or title

Aquatic exercise to optimise brain physiological and mental health for individuals with neurological disorders


Neurological disorders, including spinal cord injury, stroke or multiple sclerosis commonly result in a direct loss of motor function, which is an antecedent for inactivity and physical deconditioning. An elevated incidence of psychological disorders (i.e., anxiety and depression) are commonly reported in these individuals, along with poorer cerebrovascular health (i.e., increased risk of stroke and impaired cognition). While exercise is a promising therapeutic strategy, alternative approaches are required to optimise this stimulus for individuals with reduced physical capacity. Exercising in water has been shown to be feasible and safe in individuals living with these neurological disorders. Furthermore, the hydrostatic pressure generated by water results in a re-distribution of blood towards the brain, possibly promoting superior physiological benefits for cerebrovascular health compared to land-based exercise. Specifically, this PhD studentship will examine the acute effects of water-based exercise on cardiovascular responses, brain blood flow and cognitive function relative to land-based exercise. We will use this information to develop a water-based exercise intervention, informed through collaboration with individuals with lived experience of neurological deficits. We will then examine the effects of this intervention on cognitive function, mood and health-related quality of life. Utilising a multimodal imaging approach (e.g., MRI and transcranial Doppler), we will quantify changes in cerebrovascular structure and function to elucidate the mechanism underlying improved physical and mental health outcomes. Lastly, this project plans to develop evidence-based recommendations for water-based exercise for individuals with neurological conditions to improve global health, which could ultimately be implemented in clinical practice and community settings.


Physical Health and Mental Health Multimorbidity


University of Birmingham

Specific Project Eligibility