Trainee Spotlight: Q&A with Ryan Stanley Falck

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Tell us about yourself in a paragraph or two: What is your name, and what are you studying? Where are you from? What was your dream job as a kid? What's your favourite thing to do outside of school/work?

My name is Ryan Stanley Falck and I am a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC). As a Michael Smith Health Research BC postdoctoral fellow trainee, I am examining how the 24-hour activity cycle (i.e., physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep) impacts cognitive health and risk for dementia. My research also examines how different lifestyle factors (e.g., exercise training, pet ownership, etc.) can impact physical and cognitive health.

I’m originally from the United States, and moved to Canada to pursue my PhD at UBC. After graduating from UBC at the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to stay in BC for my postdoc.

As a child, I wanted to be a professional athlete (either baseball or American football), or a paleontologist. I wasn’t a good enough athlete to play professional sports and by age 10, I realized (sadly) that the dinosaurs were all gone. Instead, I decided to study exercise science and kinesiology at university, which eventually led to an interest in public health. Outside of work, my favourite activities are watching bad reality TV with my wife and running with my dog, Buddy.

What interested you about the CLSA?

The CLSA is an exciting opportunity to explore how we can promote successful physical and cognitive aging. With over 50,000 participants, it provides unique opportunities to explore changes over time in a multitude of health outcomes. I am also excited by the opportunity to help contribute to the promotion of successful aging for all Canadians. The results may be immediately applicable, since these data come from Canadian participants. Finally, the CLSA COVID-19 questionnaire study provides important information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple aspects of health for middle-aged and older adults.

What type of research are you doing with CLSA data? Have you published? If so, what are the findings (in lay terms)?

I have used the CLSA data for several analyses which are either published or under review. I recently published, in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, a cross-sectional analysis of the CLSA that examined whether cardiometabolic risk factors (i.e., cholesterol, triglyceride, C-reactive protein, and HbA1c levels) share an interactive relationship with age-associated cognitive performance, and whether these effects are sex-dependent. The results of this paper suggest that cardiometabolic risk factors do not meaningfully account for age-associated differences in cognitive performance, and these associations (or lack thereof) do not vary by biological sex.

I also have two CLSA papers which are currently under review for publication. The first paper under review investigates the association between pet ownership and anxiety and depression symptoms based on mental health disorder status. Our results suggest that among people with mental health disorders, pet ownership was associated with poorer mental health symptoms during April 2020 – December 2020 of the COVID-19 pandemic. By comparison, pet ownership was not associated with differences in anxiety or depressive symptoms in people without mental health disorders. The second paper under review examines age and sex differences in the associations of physical activity and sleep duration with cognitive function using baseline data from the CLSA (i.e., 2010-2014). Our findings suggest that 1) physical activity is associated with better cognitive performance irrespective of age and biological sex; and 2) there is a complex association between sleep duration and cognitive performance which is both age and sex dependent.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you've learned from your work with the CLSA? How do you think the CLSA will help you grow as a student or in your future?

One of the most surprising things about the CLSA is how much data there are. Working with the CLSA has helped me to expand my research to new areas, and improve my understanding of the challenges and opportunities available when working with large-scale epidemiological data.

How do you think the findings using CLSA data will be useful to you, or others, in the future? My main hope is that the findings from the CLSA will help to improve the quality of life of Canadians as they age. For my own research aims, I hope that the CLSA data provide researchers with a better understanding about how lifestyle can promote successful physical and cognitive aging. I also hope that future researchers will be able to build upon what we have found at the CLSA thus far (and in the future) to help further promote the quality of life and functional independence of adults as they age.

Do you have any idea about what kind of job you'd like to do when you finish school?

I am currently applying for tenure-track faculty jobs here in Canada. My ultimate career goal is to be an independent scientist who will develop a multifaceted research program dedicated to advancing our understanding of how lifestyle strategies promote healthy cognitive aging across the lifespan.

My work with the CLSA has also helped me to recognize that opportunities to “be healthy” are gifts which not everyone has the chance to receive. Creating a more equitable and just society is necessary for helping to ensure that all adults have the same opportunities to age successfully with dignity.