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Examining Healthy Habits

Examining Healthy Habits

By Tara Roberts

An increasing number of young women are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.

Researchers in the University of Idaho’s Department of Movement Sciences are examining how women’s daily activity levels relate to their disease risk – and whether altering those levels could reduce their chances of facing serious health problems.

Assistant professors Chantal Vella and David Paul, along with a team of graduate students, are conducting an in-depth study of 50 women. They want to learn whether their subjects’ levels of sedentary activity, physical activity and inflammation affect cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as abdominal obesity and elevated blood pressure.

The Women’s Health Study, funded by the U-Idaho Seed Grant Program, focuses on how much time the subjects spend in sedentary activities, such as sitting, versus physical activity, such as walking, dancing or rock climbing.

Vella, Paul and their team track the women’s activity levels using an accelerometer and a daily diary. Subjects run on a treadmill in the state-of-the-art Exercise Physiology Laboratory, where researchers monitor fitness indicators such as oxygen use, heart rate and respiration. An advanced tool called the BodPod precisely measures subjects’ body compositions using air displacement.

Preliminary results show that women who spend more time in sedentary behaviors may have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease markers, Paul says. The study’s next steps include analyzing whether exercise intensity or duration relates to disease.

The study is part of Vella’s ongoing investigation into the relationships among sedentary behaviors, physical activity and disease indicators – a topic she’s been studying for six years. Vella, who also teaches in the Washington Wyoming Alaska Montana Idaho Medical Education Program (WWAMI), plans to expand the project and conduct exercise intervention studies to try to help people improve their health before they face major illness.

“Our preliminary results suggest that if you spend the majority of your day doing sedentary activities, such as computer work or watching TV, your chances of developing cardiovascular disease risk factors increase, even if you meet current physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes of physical activity per day,” Vella says. “These findings suggest it’s important for health to remain active throughout the day, not just part of the day.”

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