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Study information

Integrated Physiology and Adaptation to Physical (in)activity

Module titleIntegrated Physiology and Adaptation to Physical (in)activity
Module codeESS3706
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Benjamin Wall (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Particularly in Western society, the amount of time individuals spend physically active has declined considerably over the last century. It is becoming evident that decreased physical activity is the single biggest factor underlying or exacerbating many chronic diseases, (e.g. type-2 diabetes, chronic heart disease, age-related sarcopenia). The striking part about this observation is that physical activity is an entirely alterable, environmental factor, and not pre-determined by our genetic make-up.

Physical activity comes in many shapes and sizes and has the capacity to improve virtually all aspects of health and performance. Adaptations are critical to the athlete, but also reverse many of the negative consequences associated with chronic disease. Of particular interest to the sports scientist, is that many of the positive/negative effects of physical (in)activity occur within skeletal muscle, due to the tremendous plasticity exhibited by this important tissue. This module builds on fundamental physiology, metabolism and biochemistry to explain and critically assess the evidence for how our biology interacts with our environmental stimuli of exercise and inactivity to impact on health and performance.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module covers how different types of physical (in)activity modulate human metabolism. The module extends considerably on the fundamental understanding of biochemistry, physiology and molecular biology, with the overall goal of taking you to a modern ‘research level’ understanding and thus having the ability to describe the acute molecular, cellular and physiological changes that occur during and following a single bout of physical (in)activity, and how these responses ultimately accumulate to result in phenotypic changes (‘adaptation’). As such, the goal is that third year sports science students from Exeter electing to take this module will graduate with a sound understanding of the integrated physiology (‘molecule to movement’) underlying adaptation to training/de-training, a key and unique intellectual area that is profoundly needed in many fields.

Though the molecular biology and biochemistry of exercise is generally regarded as one of the tougher disciplines in sport and exercise sciences, by communicating truly modern scientific data (much of which is our own given that we are active researchers in this field), I hope that our enthusiasm for the remarkable plasticity of the human body will be communicated and, ultimately, position you as experts in the understanding of why society should regard ‘exercise prescription as medicine’. Now, more than ever, the 21st century workplace requires more individuals with this level of understanding and appreciation for exercise.

Graduate attributes:

  • Independent research skills in undertaking a solo research project will need to be presented to the group.
  • Presentational skills in terms of communicating latest scientific findings to the group.
  • Translation of scientific data to practical, evidence based recommendations concentring exercise for athletes and/or clinical populations.
  • Research level scientific knowledge concerning mechanisms underlying adaptation to exercise.
  • Critical thinking in assessing research and recommendations.
  • Debate: using evidence to discuss competing theories and points of view.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain the acute metabolic and molecular events that occur with differing types of exercise and inactivity
  • 2. Explain how the acute events associated with exercise/inactivity ultimately result in adaptation

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Describe the theoretical basis of a range of state-of-the-art, modern techniques for interrogating human physiology and molecular biology
  • 4. Compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of methods and models to study human integrated physiology

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Develop a fundamental, research and evidence base of modern human physiology and an appreciation of ‘How we know what we know’.
  • 6. Communicate science effectively through development of individual research and presentation skills to enthusiastically communicate the underlying science and relevance of an exercise/inactivity modality of relevance to a pertinent population (patient/athlete etc.).
  • 7. Judge critically the strengths and weaknesses of published science and transfer these skills to an evidence-based debate situation

Syllabus plan

  • Module introduction
  • Basic cell biology
  • Metabolic/molecular basis for adaptation to resistance-type exercise
  • Metabolic/molecular basis for adaptation to endurance-type exercise
  • Physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying the adaptation to physical inactivity
  • The biology of muscle damage and repair
  • Understanding the physiological underpinning of sarcopenia
  • Methods for assessing in vivo metabolism in humans
  • Applicability of experimental animal models for integrated human physiology
  • Vascular adaptation to exercise
  • Modern molecular biology and prediction of human physiology, disease and performance
  • Molecular nutrition for sports and exercise

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching16.5Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching16.5Seminars
Guided independent study28Recommended reading around the lecture content
Guided independent study39Seminar preparation
Guided independent study50Individual presentation research and preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Feedback on seminar presentations/debates/point-counterpoint etcVariable1-7Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Individual presentation (choice of one modality of exercise or inactivity, explanation of the molecular/physiological basis for how it leads to adaptation and how this would benefit or be detrimental to a chosen population (either an athlete or patient population))3010 minute presentation with 5 minutes for questions from the module team1-7Written
Examination702 hours1-7Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Individual presentationIndividual presentation1-7Aug-Sep assessment period
ExaminationExamination1-7Aug-Sep assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

The majority of reading for this module will be research papers both specified at lectures to read around lecture content and prepare for seminars, as well as you being expected to read around the areas by seeking out literature yourself. This provides an opportunity for you to read what you find most interesting about the module/lecture content, on which you will have the opportunity to be assessed due to the freedom provided by the assessments.

However, the following two textbooks provide a useful research to learn, catch up or consolidate basic science knowledge that may be required as you move through the module.

  • Molecular Exercise Physiology: An introduction. Henning Wackerage. (Routledge).
  • Biochemistry of Exercise and Training. Ron Maughan, Michael Gleeson and Paul Greenhaff. (Oxford Medical Publications)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Physiology, metabolism, exercise, adaptation, inactivity

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

ESS2509 Sports Nutrition and Metabolism or BIO1339 Cells

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date