Meet graduate student Greg Panza

Greg Panza
Greg Panza

Greg Panza is a doctoral candidate in kinesiology whose research focuses on physical activity behavior and performance. He was lead author on a recent study that revealed the positive cognitive effects of exercise on individuals at risk of or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. In acknowledgement of his work, he received the Graduate Student Research Award at the CAHNR Awards and Honors Event this past March. Here is what he said in an interview.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?  What was your major?

I received my undergraduate degree in exercise science from Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and my master’s degree in kinesiology from UConn.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

I initially decided to go to graduate school following a semester-long internship in Dr. Linda Pescatello’s Health Fitness Research Laboratory. During my final semester as an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work with graduate students in this lab on various ongoing research studies and eventually could see myself being a part of the research team as a graduate student. Following my master’s degree in 2011, I became an adjunct instructor at CCSU. In 2012, I began working as an exercise physiologist and clinical research associate at Hartford Hospital before returning to UConn in 2015 to pursue my PhD. I decided to return for my PhD to open additional career opportunities in the field and to challenge myself to continue to grow as a research scientist.

Who is your advisor?

Dr. Linda Pescatello.

What is your field of research?

My research has been interdisciplinary. It has included assessments of physical activity behavior and performance, the effects of statins on exercise behavior and performance, the effects of exercise on Alzheimer’s disease and the effect of obesity stigma on cardiovascular health.

Name one aspect of your work that you like.

One of the aspects of research that I enjoy the most is when we find something novel and the results from our work have an impact in the field. Our results may change guidelines or recommendations or deliver an important message to the general public that can lead to healthy behavior changes.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?

I was the first author on a recently published meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, examining the effects of exercise on cognitive function among individuals at risk for or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This was the first meta-analysis to demonstrate that aerobic exercise has the strongest effects on cognitive function in this population. The novel findings from this study provide an exercise prescription framework for future studies examining exercise a potential treatment strategy for Alzheimer’s disease. This was rated the journal’s number one paper of 2018, received the third most media coverage of any paper published in this journal and garnered national and international media attention from outlets such as Reuters Health, TIME Magazine, Medscape, NBC News, Diabetes Forecast Magazine, IDEA Fitness Magazine and Medical News Today.

Recently, I was honored to receive the CAHNR Graduate Student Doctoral Research Award in recognition of my research accomplishments as a PhD student.

What do you hope to do once you get your degree?

Once I finish my PhD, I will explore various options, such as a senior scientist in a clinical setting, teaching at a university or a medical science liaison for a pharmaceutical company.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I like to keep active by hiking, weight lifting and doing yard work.  When I can find the time, I also enjoy drawing and painting.

By Jason M. Sheldon