Ball State: New Clinical Trials Examine How Exercise Helps Us Down to Our Molecules

Todd Trappe (left) and Scott Trappe (right) work on a research project at Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory.

Ball State University will partner with two other major research institutions as part of a national project to uncover how exercise changes the body on a molecular level, which could lead to people engaging in more targeted and optimized activities.

Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) will form one clinical trial site with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for Exercise Medicine and the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes in Orlando, Florida. Their work is part of the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans program (MoTrPac), which will be financed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund.

The three partners will share a projected $6.6 million over six years, 2017-23, as part of a $170 million NIH investment for the largest, most complex and highly coordinated human exercise physiology training study in the field’s history.

“The NIH initiative is a moonshot opportunity for the exercise community, and the Human Performance Laboratory is honored to be part of the team,” said Scott Trappe, the John and Janice Fisher Endowed Chair of Exercise Science and director of the Human Performance Laboratory in Ball State’s newly formed College of Health. “This is a new frontier that will move the field forward to better understand the health benefits of exercise.”

Under the $170 million project, 19 grants will support researchers working around the country, including seven clinical trial sites and several analytical sites to collect samples from people of different races, ethnic groups, sex, ages and fitness levels.

“We have long understood that exercising is beneficial to our overall health; however, we still do not understand why,” NIH director Francis S. Collins said in a statement. “The development of a so-called molecular map of circulating signals produced by physical activity will allow us to discover, at a fundamental level, how physical activity affects our health.

Under the national research initiative, researchers will partner to develop plans to recruit people for clinical trials, identify how to analyze tissue samples and select animal models to best replicate human studies.

Investigators across the country will recruit a total of about 3,000 healthy men and women of different fitness levels, ages, races and ethnicities. Each clinical site will enroll and study 450 to 500 participants. Researchers will collect blood, urine and tissue samples from the volunteers, who will perform resistance or aerobic exercises as part of the national study.

During the first year, clinical site teams will finalize plans and responsibilities. Trappe said HPL will quickly ramp up operations, including adding more researchers and post-doctoral students, to begin work in 2017. He will be a co-director of the test site; Todd Trappe, a Ball State exercise science professor, will be a co-principal investigator for the site.

Toby Chambers, a first-year doctoral student in Ball State’s human bioenergetics program, believes the NIH project underscores the national reputations Ball State and HPL have developed.

“As a doctoral student in the Human Performance Laboratory, I am really excited about the learning opportunities that will result from the research team’s involvement,” he said. “The unique opportunities this presents to the research team are why individuals, like myself, continue to be attracted to the HPL at Ball State.”

Winter Wellness: Keep It Simple

This column was originally posted at Inside INdiana Business:

Braving the brisk air for a jog may be the last thing you want to do when you wake up. Pursuing indoor activities is a rewarding alternative. Head to the gym or pop in an exercise DVD. Short on time? No problem. You don’t have to use a treadmill or lift weights. Spend two or three minutes doing stretching exercises. Take deep breaths as you prepare for the day ahead.

During your workday, keep active. Conduct standing or walking meetings. In addition, discuss projects in person with co-workers rather than always using e-mail. Or call them and stand up while you’re talking. Nine times out of 10, if I’m on the telephone, I’m moving.

If those options don’t appeal to you (it’s all about personalizing your initiative), try one of these simple desk exercises. Grab a Frisbee or paper plate and turn it upside down. Then put it under your desk and move your legs back and forth on the carpet. It’s a great way to work lower leg muscles.

Looking for inexpensive strength training tools? Use resistance bands (also called therapeutic bands) to stretch. Another idea is to replace your traditional office chair with a stability ball, which helps improve posture and works core muscles. If that is not an option, you can still engage your abs by sitting up straight on the edge of your chair and slightly leaning back.

Prefer something more social? Take a stroll on an indoor path with co-workers. After hours, create your own walking route at a shopping mall. And if the weather isn’t too chilly, venture outside and have fun! Take a scenic walk through the woods at a park or go sledding.

Did you know that you don’t have to exercise for long periods of time to reap the benefits? Ten minutes here and there – adding up to approximately 30 minutes a day – can make a big difference. The key is figuring out how you can incorporate physical activities into your normal day based on what you feel you are capable of doing and what interests you.

Take the stairs. Walk up an escalator rather than standing in place. When you’re grocery shopping, push your cart through every aisle. Small steps add up.

The holidays bring good tidings and… lots of temptation. Why not take a walk after a big meal with family and friends? Also, instead of sampling all of the festive foods you crave, enjoy one or two things and savor them.

Many people will enter 2013 with a resolution to stop smoking. It’s an important step that can dramatically improve your health and well-being. The QUIT NOW Tool  offered by the Wellness Council of Indiana is a valuable resource to assist Hoosier employees in their smoking cessation efforts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, each smoker costs his or her organization $3,391 annually in direct medical costs and lost productivity. That’s a huge impact. Remember: Healthy employees lead to healthy workplaces with happier, more productive team members.

The best gift you can give to yourself is good health. Find what works for you and makes you happy. That’s how you truly make a lifestyle change.

Hey Indiana, Get on the Bike!

Indiana is home to seven of the 214 U.S. bicycle-friendly communities, according to the League of American Bicyclists. There are only three communities in the platinum grouping. In Indiana, Bloomington is a silver designee, with the following in the large bronze category: Carmel, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Goshen, Indianapolis and South Bend. Governing reports:

The United States is now home to 214 bicycle-friendly communities in 47 states, according to a new list released Monday by the League of American Bicyclists.

Municipalities are evaluated based on their efforts to promote bicycling, investments in bicycling infrastructure and bicycling education programs, the league said in a news release. They must apply to be considered for the list. Localities are also divided into four categories: platinum, gold, silver and bronze.

Boulder, Colo., Davis, Calif., and Portland, Ore., remained the only three communities to earn the platinum distinction on the 2012 list. All three ranked in the top 10 for their percentage of commuters who bike to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, as Governing previously reported.

The league also singled out Durango, Colo., and Missoula, Mont., which were moved up from a silver to a gold designation.

More than 7 percent of Missoula’s commuters bike to work, according to the league’s report, well above the national average of 1 percent. The city has recently installed protected bike lanes, added bike path signage and created more bike parking. Durango has constructed more than 300 miles of mountain biking trails and continues to invest in city biking lanes, the league noted in its release.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans who use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation has doubled in the last decade, up to 730,000.

Getting Well

Our next edition of BizVoice magazine (July/August) will be focused on wellness. We’re currently doing interviews for the stories, and it’s been very encouraging to see what many businesses around the state are doing to keep — or get — their employees healthy. The importance of wellness really can’t be overstated. Case in point, see this inspirational viral video about an American paratrooper who’s turned his life around through yoga (and famous former WCW wrestler "Diamond" Dallas Page played a key role, which makes it even more awesome — at least for me).

Exercise: Maybe Even More Valuable Than We Thought

If you’re one of those wellness-oriented people who annoys your coworkers with your mountain of weekly activity (thus making them feel terrible about themselves), then you’ll love this post on the New York Times blog. Seriously though, this is great info and HR and wellness professionals should take note:

Is physical frailty inevitable as we grow older? That question preoccupies scientists and the middle-aged, particularly when they become the same people. Until recently, the evidence was disheartening. A large number of studies in the past few years showed that after age 40, people typically lose 8 percent or more of their muscle mass each decade, a process that accelerates significantly after age 70. Less muscle mass generally means less strength, mobility and among the elderly, independence. It also has been linked with premature mortality.

But a growing body of newer science suggests that such decline may not be inexorable. Exercise, the thinking goes, and you might be able to rewrite the future for your muscles.

Consider the results of a stirring study published last month in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine. For it, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recruited 40 competitive runners, cyclists and swimmers. They ranged in age from 40 to 81, with five men and five women representing each of four age groups: 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 69, and 70-plus. All were enviably fit, training four or five times a week and competing frequently. Several had won their age groups in recent races.

They completed questionnaires detailing their health and weekly physical activities. Then the researchers measured their muscle mass, leg strength and body composition, determining how much of their body and, more specifically, their muscle tissue was composed of fat. Other studies have found that as people age, they not only lose muscle, but the tissue that remains can become infiltrated with fat, degrading its quality and reducing its strength.

There was little evidence of deterioration in the older athletes’ musculature, however. The athletes in their 70s and 80s had almost as much thigh muscle mass as the athletes in their 40s, with minor if any fat infiltration. The athletes also remained strong. There was, as scientists noted, a drop-off in leg muscle strength around age 60 in both men and women. They weren’t as strong as the 50-year-olds, but the differential was not huge, and little additional decline followed. The 70- and 80-year-old athletes were about as strong as those in their 60s.