Part I: Why Study Physiology?

Even in 347 B.C, Plato understood that “lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” Over 2,000 years later, these principles of movement and overall health are still understood and accepted as dogma. What is more, scientific progress has allowed us to understand the exact reasons as to why physical activity and fitness are so important to human health and well-being.

My own quest for scientific understanding began as an undergraduate at Northern Kentucky University. NKU was a far cry from UF; we had around 2000 students on campus. However, the personal interaction with some of my professors allowed me to learn a lot and get involved in some pretty cool research projects early in my learning career. I spent many summers helping collect data for a large energy drink and exercise study as well as a military-funded study where we had participants used an AR-15 laser rifle to measure accuracy and performance under stress. It’s pretty easy to fall in love with the scientific process after this type of involvement, and I proceeded to do my own independent project on exercise and diabetes for a senior project under my advisor Dr. Cory Scheadler. I was required to write up a grant, IRB protocol, and funding budget. While stressful, the process told me what a career in research would involve – and oddly I was hooked. Even though I began undergrad thinking I wanted a sports-performance-based career path; I ended with a love for exercise-interventions in disease (and health), something I credit to a broadening of insights and a realization that exercise science was so much more than improving someone’s V02 max or applying the FIIT principle to an exercise plan. The process of developing and testing hypotheses became more and more appealing; I didn’t want to stop learning.

Thus – I decided graduate school was, if not a must, something I wanted to pursue. Opportunities for a fellowship opened up at Florida, and working with Dr. Demetra Christou I came up with a study plan and application in just under 2 weeks…talk about deadlines! I now find myself in Gainesville and have found a fantastic running club, immensely better weather, and an institution producing work by many of best researchers in the world, as well as a fantastic lab group, and a great advisor.

Now in the APK department and Center for Exercise Science (CES) our aim is to fully understand the human body; how it responds to various stressors such as exercise and heat, and the exact mechanisms that underlie these responses. Involved in our research process is the study of short term (acute) and longer term (chronic) responses to different types of exercise; whether it be the short, anaerobic burst of a high intensity interval  or the slow burn of a resistance training protocol. Understanding the cellular, molecular, and tissue-level responses and adaptations that occur with exercise pave the way for APK researchers to apply these models to various health and disease states.

Why take an interest in physiology? Sure, conducting science is fun and rewarding in its own right. Discovering new facts, whether at the bench or conversing over beer at the Swamp, caters to our innate human desire to explain the unexplainable, to develop and then hopefully prove our hypotheses as correct (and then publish, publish, publish!). My own attraction to this field arose out of a life-long passion for the sport of running. I thought perhaps, by learning the principles of exercise training and fundamentals of human physiology, I could reach more of my potential in the activities I loved to do and become a better athlete. A degree path in exercise physiology was initially a desire to “scratch my own itch” so to speak. However, along the way, I realized that this new abundance of knowledge could benefit both myself, but also be used to help others reach a higher state of human health and well-being.

Such is the motto of the CES; to “improve human health by advancing knowledge through research.” Whether by maintaining optimal health in individuals looking to improve well-being, or by delaying age and disease-related declines in physiological function, APK utilizes a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to science. Basic and applied researchers are both necessary to accomplish this task, as small-scale discovery is useless without large-scale application, and vice-versa.

Rigorous, clean, methodical science is a must. However, and more importantly, the job of scientists and students is to communicate their knowledge and passion for scientific research in an interesting and understandable manner. Dissemination of our work is the core of what researchers do – for why else do we have public lectures, seminars, and publish in journals but for the public to take notice and take practice of what we have discovered. As we all know, scientists realize the importance of their own research. The goal, in this information-overloaded age, is to convince the public that THEY should care about our research too. The topics we study at APK are not just of interest to students and faculty – they are (or should be) of utmost priority to society. We research which exercise intensities are best, which pharmacological therapies work most effectively, in order that those outside of science can put this knowledge to good use and see a health benefit.  What we study at APK has the potential to impact human health and disease on a community and a global scale. Indeed, many UF researchers have published groundbreaking work in the areas of chronic diseases. Applied physiology is meant to denote just that – an application of our research to a cause greater than our department or CV – an application to the foundation of scientific discourse and discovery.

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