“I have an amazing job. In fact, my job is my hobby,” says Niall Moyna, a top sports scientist at Dublin City University (DCU).
Niall came to science late, however. In secondary school, at St Macartan’s College in Monaghan, he was a runner and Gaelic footballer.
The fascination begins
“To make myself a better athlete, I would buy textbooks to figure out how the body worked and it was from there I just became fascinated with the body,” he explains.
At 17 he went to St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin to see a heart expert because of a suspected enlarged heart. It turned out he just had a large but healthy heart from running. It was then he realised he wanted to study and work in exercise and health.
Niall did sports science at the University of Limerick and then did a master’s degree in Purdue University in Indiana, US. He was driven by his love of sport and still gets excited by discoveries.
“We have just completed a study where we looked at Gaelic football players and compared two groups,” says Niall. Both groups trained three times a week for six weeks. One group did standard training for 800 minutes in total. The other group did 80 minutes of high-intensity exercises (such as sprinting) three times a week. Those doing high-intensity training maintained their speed and power – unlike the others – and showed the same improvement in fitness.
“This is a great example of how we can maximise training for club-level Gaelic football players.”
Change of direction
When Niall came home from the US, he taught in the Marist College in Dundalk and St Macartan’s for three years. Then he returned to college, attending one of the biggest medical centres in the US at the University of Pittsburgh. He learned that the hardening of the arteries was an inflammatory response and realised that exercise could be used like a drug.
“I started to work with individuals with chronic clinical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”
A passion for research
Today he teaches and does research. He talks excitedly about studies in DCU on how exercise turns genes on and off and what kind of nutrition someone should take. There is an impression that you have to be a genius to be a scientist. “That is not the case. There are careers in science for a wide variety of people,” says Niall.