Olympic fever was everywhere this past summer—and the School of Kinesiology was no exception, with four connections to the Summer Olympics in London. Alumni representing the School were former Gopher star and current Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen (B.S., sport management, 2004); triple jumper Amanda Smock (Ph.D., exercise physiology, 2010); and Olympic Committee Member Angela Ruggiero (M.Ed., applied kinesiology, 2010). In addition, Roberto Sobalvarro, instructor for PE 1031 Sabre Fencing and PE 1033 Foil Fencing in the School of Kinesiology, was the head coach of the bronze-medal-winning Women's Epee U.S. Olympic Team. Whalen also brought home a medal as the U.S. women's basketball team won its fifth-straight gold.
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Earlier this fall, Beth Lewis, associate professor in the School of Kinesiology, was awarded a Research Project Grant (R01) by the National Institute of Mental Health. This four-year, $1.46 million grant, "Effect of Exercise and Wellness Interventions on Preventing Postpartum Depression," is aimed at examining the efficacy of exercise and wellness/support interventions for preventing postpartum depression, which affects approximately 10-13% of women.
This is the largest single grant awarded to a School of Kinesiology faculty member while at the University of Minnesota since 2005.
"Becoming a mother is an incredible but overwhelming experience," said Lewis. "We hope that our research can significantly help mothers by providing non-pharmacological strategies, such as exercise, that can prevent and/or treat the depressive symptoms that commonly accompany the postpartum phase."
In general, Lewis examines how exercise influences mental health among adults. Her research group specifically focuses on conducting randomized controlled trials examining the efficacy of exercise interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders among adults. The exercise interventions are designed to help sedentary adults increase their activity level using theory-based strategies such as goal setting, self-monitoring exercise, and increasing enjoyment of exercise. Because there are many barriers associated with face-to-face interventions including time, cost, and childcare, Lewis typically delivers non-face-to-face interventions.
As an example, Lewis recently completed a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health examining the effect of telephone-based exercise and wellness interventions on preventing postpartum depression. The telephone-based exercise sessions in this study were designed to motivate the postpartum mothers to increase their exercise, while the telephone-based wellness sessions addressed issues related to health and wellness (e.g., managing stress, improving sleep). This research also examined the mechanisms (e.g., rewarding yourself, making a commitment) that play an important role for increasing exercise. For example, research indicates that social support is important for exercise promotion, especially among postpartum mothers. Social support refers to the support received from a significant other or friend that helps the individual increase their exercise. Therefore, this research study examined if social support is a mediating variable accounting for the increase in exercise as a result of the intervention. One in four adults suffer from some form of a mental disorder each year, and exercise interventions have the potential to make a significant impact on adult mental health.
The Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene and Exercise Science (LPHES) has a long history of research success dating back to the 1930's and is a national leader in studying human health, nutrition, and disease. It has showcased the work of well-known and seminal researchers such as Ancel Keys, Elsworth Buskirk, Henry Taylor, Henry Blackburn, and Arthur Leon.
Dr. Li Li Ji, Professor and Director of the School of Kinesiology, is humbled to join the above-mentioned group of respected researchers. A world-renowned researcher in Exercise Physiology, he now leads our legendary LPHES, taking on new challenges in promoting research and investigation on the effect of physical activity on human health, nutrition, disease, aging, and in the training of a new generation of graduate and undergraduate students in these areas of national agenda.
Dr. Ji received his Ph.D., in Exercise Physiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and postdoctoral training in the Institute for Enzyme Research. Over the past three decades, his research has focused on the balance between free radical chemicals and antioxidants and how it affects the response and adaptation of skeletal muscle and heart to acute and chronic exercise, and the role that nutrition and aging plays in determining the outcomes. He is an internationally known expert in the gene expression and molecular signaling of antioxidant enzymes and the impact of antioxidant nutrients on body function. Recently, his work has been extended to studying the efficacy of phytochemicals (natural chemicals derived from plants) on human health and performance, especially in women and elderly people. Dr. Ji is continuously searching for new strategies to combat health problems and diseases affecting the human population, such as cardiovascular disorders and sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). He is currently exploring a technique to inject DNA into muscles in intact animals to boost mitochondrial function and antioxidant defense in aid of recovery from muscle atrophy due to disuse.
The lab recently underwent a major renovation and now offers state-of-the-art facilities for biomedical research in both animal and human exercise physiology and molecular biology.
"It is an honor to be able to carry on this mission," Dr. Ji stated recently. "Moving my laboratory to the University of Minnesota offers new opportunities, and I am looking forward to working together with graduate and undergraduate students and collaborating with faculty and researchers across campus."
You can visit the newly remodeled LPHES in the University Recreation Center, Room 27.