08:18pm Wednesday 23 October 2019

Why can some people endure exercise better than others?

Cyclist in a velodrome

Our ability to exercise – and keep going – is a key determinant of good health. Persistent inactivity reduces tolerance to exercise and can lead to a downward spiral that is debilitating in the healthy elderly, and can contribute to the development of chronic disease.

To better understand how the bodies of different individuals cope with exercise, researchers from the universities of Leeds and Liverpool are working with elite athletes, in collaboration with UK Sport’s Research and Innovation programme, and groups of healthy young and elderly people.  

In a project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the team will be working with the British Cycling Science team to examine the exercise responses of these groups. They aim to produce a model to provide greater insight into how the physiology of elite athletes is optimised to sustain high levels of exercise. The model will be used to better understand why exercise tolerance is limited in sedentary or elderly individuals, and as the basis for informing interventions in patients with heart and lung conditions where exercise intolerance is a primary characteristic.

Lead researcher Dr Harry Rossiter says: “We know that having a powerful heart, efficient lungs and fatigue-resistant muscles that are economical in turning chemical energy into mechanical power are each important to be able to sustain physical activity. But the exceptional performance of elite athletes is not predicted simply from knowing the capacity of heart, lungs or muscles.  The body is like an engine; not only does each component have to do their own job well, but their responses also need to be integrated effectively.

The research group will use non-invasive technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre at the University of Liverpool. This will enable researchers to look inside the exercising body and investigate how different people integrate the responses of the heart, lungs and muscles to generate and sustain high power production.

“Tuning these elements to work together allows exercise tolerance to be optimised, as with elite athletes. By examining how these systems interact we hope to better understand why some people have high levels of endurance and others do not,” says Dr Rossiter.

The two year project will run until May 2013 and BBSRC has recently made a second award to Dr Rossiter under its Japan Partnering Awards scheme. This award additional funding over a four year period to allow the UK scientists working on this project access to expertise in central and peripheral blood flow dynamics at four Japanese Universities. It is expected that combining expertise in the UK and Japan will facilitate the development of computational models to elucidate how integration of the circulatory, neuromuscular and pulmonary systems in prolonging exercise contributes to health, quality of life, and longevity.

Dr Rossiter is available for interview.

For more information:

Clare Elsley, Campus PR, tel 0113 258 9880, mob 07767 685168, email clare@campuspr.co.uk


University of Leeds Press Office. Tel 0113 343 4031, Email pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk


Notes to editors:


  1. The Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds is one of the largest in the UK, with over 150 academic staff and over 400 postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students. The Faculty is ranked 4th in the UK (Nature Journal, 457 (2009) doi :10.1038/457013a) based on results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The RAE feedback noted that “virtually all outputs were assessed as being recognized internationally, with many (60%) being internationally excellent or world-leading” in quality. The Faculty’s research grant portfolio totals some £60M and funders include charities, research councils, the European Union and industry. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk
  2. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK’s eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University’s vision is to secure a place among the world’s top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk
  3. Dr Rossiter is working with Dr Graham Kemp of the Department of Musculoskeletal Biology at the University of Liverpool. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £110 million annually.
  4. UK Sport is the nation’s high-performance sports agency. Its mission is to work in partnership to lead sport in the UK to world class success. Primarily this means working with our partner sporting organisations to deliver medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. UK Sport is funded by a mix of Government Exchequer and Lottery income, as well as private investment through Team 2012.  www.uksport.gov.uk


    UK Sport’s Research and Innovation team, led by Dr Scott Drawer, strategically invests £1.5 millon per year in collaborative projects to enhance the performance of British Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The team work with Innovation Partners in industry and academia who provide world class expertise to help make Britain’s athletes among the best prepared and most feared on the start line. www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/innovation-partners/ 

  5. BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.


    Sponsored by Government, in 2010/11 BBSRC is investing around £470 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


    BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:


    The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University), Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, The Genome Analysis Centre, The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) and Rothamsted Research.


    The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research. www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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