What is Physiology?

Physiology is the science of life. It is a broad science which aims to understand the mechanisms of living, from the molecular basis of cell function to the integrated behaviour of the whole body.

Research in physiology helps us to understand how the body works; it also helps us to realise what goes wrong in disease and to identify new treatments for disease.

Physiology forms an integral part of pre- and post-16 biology education, and can also be studied at university – either as a stand-alone discipline or as part of an integrated degree, such as biomedical sciences. For more information about career paths in physiology, please visit the careers section of this website.

Pre-16, the study of physiology focuses primarily on how the body moves, and the structure and function of some of the major organ systems (including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems). Post-16, the study of physiology leans more towards the understanding of physiological processes such as homeostasis and excretion.

A degree in physiology will build on the knowledge and understanding developed at school/college: it will explore selected topics in greater detail and provide a holistic view of how the different cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body are integrated. Physiologists - scientists who have chosen to explore physiology as a career – will continue to build on the knowledge they have gained during their degree and advance the science of life within an area of particular interest to them. It is important to highlight, however, that physiologists do not work in isolation: the sharing of information between scientists around the world is essential to continue developing our understanding of how the body works.

Physiology is an experimental science that underpins the biological and clinical sciences; it is key to the detection, prevention and treatment of disease. Without an understanding of basic physiology, progress made in other areas – such as the sequencing of the human genome – is limited because every biological advance must ultimately be related to the behaviour of the whole organism.

The Physiological Society recognises the importance of using animals in research in order to gain further knowledge of disease mechanisms in both animal and human diseases. We appreciate that this can be a difficult topic to understand and teach and have therefore developed supporting resources designed to address this area specifically.

To hear what physiology means to our members, listen to the podcasts available in our resources section.


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