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Campus News

Paying Attention to the Public's Health

By Stephen Roth, associate professor of kinesiology

Editor’s Note: In observance of National Public Health Week, Campus News offers an essay and activity calendar from the School of Public Health on ways the university community is promoting healthier lifestyles.

There’s a treadmill in the stacks at McKeldin Library. Seems an odd place for a bit of exercise, but the staff is on to something.

Researchers have shown the importance of exercise for a variety of health-related factors, including cognitive function. And rather than just a short dedicated period of exercise (though important), new evidence is showing that continuous and regular physical activity at even a low level—such as strolling on a treadmill while pondering Kant—can be equally important to our health.

Researchers in the Department of Kinesiology are dedicated to further understanding how the many varieties of physical activity can contribute to healthy bodies, minds and communities. Some faculty focus on the role of physical activity in maintaining and improving cognitive function into old age (think memory, decision making, etc.). They’ve shown that more physically active older men and women show better "executive" function in the brain, which means they are better able to plan, inhibit and engage different brain processes.

Others in the department are interested in the role that exercise plays in modifying our health in relation to different diseases. One project seeks to understand how exercise might modify the negative effects of menopause (think increasing body fat and diabetes risk). These scientists have evidence that estrogens are important to fat cell physiology and that exercise may partially reduce the losses of these hormones as is seen in menopause.

Another group of investigators is wrapping up a study showing that strength training might be particularly important for prostate cancer patients. A primary treatment for prostate cancer, androgen deprivation therapy, results in pretty severe losses of muscle strength and mass. When that treatment is paired with strength training, these generally older men show impressive gains in both areas, as well as improvements in physical function.

So whether it’s for the brain, the body, or beyond, the list of benefits from physical activity keeps growing. Ponder that the next time you are strolling to (and in) McKeldin.

Download a pdf of a calendar of events and activities.