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Orange County Register (California)

UC Irvine has launched a coordinated effort to deeply study the correlation between exercise and health.

The Exercise Medicine and Sport Sciences Initiative integrates a wide range of perspectives from different walks of life on campus, including fields associated with exercise and sport sciences, exercise medicine and rehabilitation.

"Exercise is not just about the physical aspect of exercise in terms of the physiology and what it's doing to the body," said James Hicks, initiative director and associate vice chancellor for research at UCI. "There's also psychological, motivational aspects, and there's nutritional aspects. It's a whole variety of viewpoints, and I think that that really is the strength of this initiative, where it brings together faculty from across campus with varied expertise and varied research interests."

With the initiative, the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences has created an undergraduate major in exercise sciences that will begin in the 2014 fall quarter.

The interdisciplinary major will include topics such as molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry, physiology and engineering.

Hicks said the program hopes to attract elite-level students who have a passion for exercise biology and aspire to attend graduate school, medical school, nursing school or physical therapy school.

"We're really wanting those students to be the future leaders in medicine, science, nursing, physical therapy, who have a deeper appreciation for the overall importance of physical activity," said Hicks, who is also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

The initiative has also developed research partnerships with UC Irvine Athletics, the Special Olympics Young Athletes program and USA Water Polo.

An important component of the initiative focuses on rehabilitation from stroke or other kinds of physical injuries or diseases. Understanding the effects of physical activity could lead to more knowledge on the recovery process.

Take, for instance, two hypothetical research questions posed by Vincent Caiozzo, professor of orthopedic surgery at UCI: How is it that muscles get bigger when one does weight training? How is it the muscles lose mass when people age?

"You can go to any 24 Hour Fitness and see both guys and girls in there who are lifting weights and their muscles get bigger as a result, but we don't really know the biological mechanisms that actually causes the muscles to get bigger, and that's a billion-dollar-plus question," Caiozzo said. "If we can understand that, then we can possibly use that as a strategy for fighting things like sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass associated with aging."

In researching the specific benefits of exercise, the initiative will also encourage people to engage in physical activity to prevent disease and increase overall wellness.

Hicks said exercise is beneficial to all people, not just elite athletes.

"One of the things that people often think about exercise is, 'Oh, you got to go out and pound the pavement. If you're not exercising 60 minutes, you know three or four times a day, you're not getting any real benefit,' " Hicks said.

However, "just walking 20 minutes a day can have positive effects on both human health as well as on your mood and on perceptions," Hicks said. "Physical activity is important for everybody at every age, from kindergarten through 90 years of age."

mfader@ocregister.com

May 13, 2014
 
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