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New UT Arlington center focuses on healthier, longer lives

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

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Media Contact: Traci Peterson, Office:817-272-9208, Cell:817-521-5494, tpeterso@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - Convincing people to make changes in their lifestyle that can lead to a healthier, longer lives isn't always easy. Researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington's new Center for Healthy Living and Longevity think they can help.

The center will be led by the College of Education and Health Professions' Department of Kinesiology. Faculty and graduate researchers from the Department of Kinesiology, the School of Social Work and the College of Nursing will take part in center activities initially, with more areas likely to be added.

Studies aimed at keeping senior citizens active, reducing childhood obesity and decreasing incidence of sometimes-deadly conditions such as hypertension are some of what's planned.

Exercise study participants Martha Erwin and Royce Hillman

Exercise study participants Martha Erwin and Royce Hillman

"The center really is something that brings people together," said Jeanne Gerlach, dean of the UT Arlington's College of Education and Health Professions. "The researchers have similar goals and objectives and they each bring their areas of expertise. It allows us to have collaborations across campus, across different campuses and across the community that we might not have otherwise had."

The Center for Healthy Living and Longevity will give students the chance to do research in health areas vital to the community. More than half of all Texans -- about 64.1 percent -- are considered overweight, state officials estimate. Increased weight and less active lifestyles have been associated with chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Gerlach said the interdisciplinary approach will give the University better access to private and government research grants. It will also provide a basis for growing new programs, such as a potential PhD in physical therapy and exercise science. Both factors are important to the University's efforts to become a nationally-recognized research institution.

The new center "fits perfectly with the University's Tier One mission," said Louise Fincher, chairwoman of UT Arlington's kinesiology department. "In pretty much every area of health care, there is a real push for evidence-based research. What that really means is doing research with real patients, real people with real conditions, to determine which interventions provide the best outcomes. That's what we're doing here."

Organizers expect the center's operating costs to be fully funded through grants and endowments. UT Arlington faculty associated with the new center are currently working on projects that have more than $1.8 million in funding. Another $1.5 million is pending.

Some of the research already underway includes:

  • A group of 40 senior citizens recently completed a 15-week program aimed at determining what kind of interventions could help decrease frailty and falls in the elderly. Groups have taken part in traditional exercise classes and some using interactive Wii games. Another 15-week session begins soon.
  • Researchers in UT Arlington's cardiovascular physiology laboratory are studying blood pressure control in African-Americans, a group that has the greatest risk of hypertension and death related to it.
  • UT Arlington oversees research that brought Dancing Classrooms, an innovative physical education program, to Tarrant County schools. Besides introducing a fun new physical activity, the program has demonstrated gains in students' self-esteem and social development.

Several other projects are planned, including examinations of concussions in high school athletes.

Opportunities for innovation are multiplied because of the center's structure, said Christopher Ray, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and the new center's director.

"It's a better model," he said. "When you get five bright people together, you have a better chance of having a good idea and a good outcome. They all bring their unique backgrounds, training and approach. Your solution is going to be more comprehensive."

The research project involving seniors already has proven that the center's work can benefit both researchers and the wider community, said Kathryn Daniel, director of the Adult and Gerontologic Nurse Practitioner Program in UT Arlington's College of Nursing. Daniel is conducting the research project on senior citizen frailty interventions with Ray.

"Our participants are wonderful," Daniel said. "They want to do it again. They're bringing their friends, spouses, neighbors. They're willing to do this because they've seen their own results."

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive undergraduate and graduate institution of nearly 29,000 students in the heart of North Texas. UT Arlington's research activities are escalating rapidly, and the Center for Healthy Living and Longevity is representative of the vital research now under way. For more about UT Arlington, visit www.uta.edu. 

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.

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