ESSA congratulates Dr Amy Harding, winner of 2020 ESSA Medal

8 April 2021

Each year, the prestigious ESSA Medal is awarded by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) to the most outstanding PhD thesis, approved for graduation in the field of exercise and sports science.

“The awarding of the ESSA Medal allows us to recognise those students who are contributing to the exercise and sports science industry through their research and dedication,” explains ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

For 2020, the ESSA Medal received a total of 15 nominations of the highest quality from dedicated project supervisors from various universities around Australia. The assessing panel commented on the difficulty when identifying a clear winner for the overall decision.

Today, ESSA is pleased to congratulate Dr Amy Harding, from Griffith University, for winning the 2020 ESSA Medal for her PhD thesis, ‘LIFTMOR-M: Lifting Intervention For Training Muscle and Osteoporosis Rehabilitation for Men’.

“ESSA is the premier disciplinary body in the field of exercise and sports science in the Asia-Pacific, and I am humbled to be the recipient of the ESSA Medal 2020 in recognition of the contribution my research has made to the area,” says Dr Harding.

“Completing a PhD is no easy task, and there are certainly sacrifices involved, but the growth you experience during your study is incredibly rewarding. Winning the ESSA Medal is certainly the cherry on top! Ultimately, the success of any intervention trial is reliant on altruism; you must have research participants who willingly volunteer their time, and I was lucky enough to recruit a fantastic group of men who brought enjoyment and enthusiasm to every session.”

“You must also have a great team of supervisors to guide you astutely through the research maze as a burgeoning researcher, and Professor Belinda Beck and Dr Ben Weeks certainly fulfilled that role. I am extremely proud of my thesis and the suite of published papers that it generated.”

Explaining the importance of this research to the exercise and sports science field, Dr Harding says, “Ever the poor cousin to drug treatment, exercise has traditionally been considered an ancillary strategy to pharmaceutical management of low bone mass. We now know that targeted exercise can do more than simply maintain bone mass. By examining the effects of a truly bone-targeted exercise program on musculoskeletal health and risk factors for falls in men with osteopenia and osteoporosis, the findings of the LIFTMOR-M trial have helped to develop an optimal osteogenic exercise prescription in this demographic.

Bearing in mind the simultaneous benefits for sarcopenia and falls prevention, neither of which are enhanced by bone medications, combined high-intensity resistance training and high-impact exercise can be described as providing a more ‘broad spectrum’ management strategy for osteopenia and osteoporosis.”

Dr Harding’s thesis received applause from the assessing panel, with feedback such as:

“This is an extremely impressive trial, particularly for a PhD program which has limited funding and time to perform.”

“This program has an extremely high capacity for translation. The outcomes and the design of the program mean it can be adopted and delivered by ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologists, and used by Accredited Exercise Scientists or Accredited Sport Scientists in non-osteoporotic individuals or athletes to help fortify bone strength due to the principles of osteogenesis and bone adaptation to mechanical loading.”

Dr Amy Harding will receive a prize money valued at $1500 and will be formally acknowledged at the ESSA Annual General Meeting (AGM) being held virtually on the 13th May.

Nominations for the 2021 ESSA Medal will open later this year, and project supervisors will be invited to nominate their PhD students as candidates from October 2021.

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