In the fifth of our weekly series of articles by NUI Galway researchers, Dr. Nicole Burns, Lecturer in the Discipline of Physiology, in the School of Medicine, writes about ‘The Science of Exercise’.

Ever notice how, when you walk up three flights of stairs your legs begin to ache and you are a little out of breath? If you put your hand to your chest you may also notice that your heart is beating a little faster than normal.

Were you going “too fast”?

If you slowed down would you still feel your heart beating faster than it was at rest?

If you sped up, would you breathe harder?

A subject seated on a cycle ergometer. A heart rate monitor is worn across the chest under the clothing to measure pulse at rest and during exercise. The facemask is connected to a computer which analyses the expired for percentage oxygen, carbon dioxide and total volume. A blood pressure cuff is worn on the right arm to measure changing blood pressure during exercise. (Photo credit Dr. Nicole Burns)
A subject seated on a cycle ergometer. A heart rate monitor is worn across the chest under the clothing to measure pulse at rest and during exercise. The facemask is connected to a computer which analyses the expired air for percentage oxygen, carbon dioxide and total volume. A blood pressure cuff is worn on the right arm to measure changing blood pressure during exercise. (Photo credit Dr. Nicole Burns)

The discipline of Exercise Physiology is interested in just those types of questions. It explores how body systems work both independently and together. Exercise physiology is the study of how exercise affects body functions. Exercise scientists study how different forms of exercise affect different systems of the body individually or collectively.

For example, they may consider the effects of contracting a single muscle group on force production over a two minute period, or they may go further to explore what happens in the muscle tissue itself, or in the body as a whole. Why does lactic acid build up at the muscle? Why is the subject sweating? Why does blood pressure increase? And what triggers these systemic changes?

Sports Science Perspective

Usain Bolt (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Usain Bolt (photo credit Ghostbusterray and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.)

Exercise physiologists work with athletes to help evaluate if training is effective in creating improvements or declines in performance. Exercise physiologists look at attributes that athletes need in order to make them successful in specific sports. They create training/competition strategies that help athletes reach their full potential and excel. Depending on the sport, an exercise physiologist may focus their research on any number of different body systems such as the muscular-skeletal system (biomechanics), the cardiorespiratory system (fitness, VO2max), the endocrine system (catecholamines), etc. Exercise Physiologists play an important role with all athletes from weight lifters to table tennis players to swimmers and runners.

Clinical Perspective

physiotherapy-senior-band
A patient working with a clinical exercise physiologist (photo credit http://www.therapytoronto.ca)

Clinical exercise physiologists work with people who have or are at risk for known clinical conditions, to help with prevention and recovery. In a research setting, clinical exercise physiologists may work alongside doctors to help discover ways to prevent diseases from occurring in at-risk populations by using different forms of exercise. For example, people known to be at risk of diabetes may be able to avoid progression to the disease by changes in diet and exercise habits. The clinical exercise physiologist can also work with doctors to help alleviate symptoms or stop progression of diseases. People with osteoporosis have been shown have an increase in bone density following a program of light weight training. People who have had a heart attack, and begin a physical activity program, have been shown to be less likely to have a secondary event.

Exercise Physiology at NUI Galway

Polar heart rate monitor and sensor (photo credit Dr. Nicole Burns)
Polar heart rate monitor and sensor (photo credit Dr. Nicole Burns)

In the past few years, NUI Galway 3rd and 4th year physiology students have had a chance to explore different aspects of exercise physiology. Some students have been looking into the effect of sports drink supplementation (e.g. caffeine, Lucozade, and Red Bull) on exercise tolerance. Others have examined the consequences of cigarette smoking on cardiovascular and respiratory efficiency. While still others have attempted to validate different tools used in exercise testing, such as heart rate monitors, McArdle step tests, sit-ups, push-ups, walking and running tasks, and many more. Exercise Physiology is a relatively new offering at NUI Galway, but the extraordinary interest of students to explore this exciting new field is tremendous.

Check out these videos from Physiology Lecturer Dr. Michelle Roche and PhD student Rebecca Henry to find out more information about studying Physiology at NUI Galway.

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