Understanding Why We Should Exercise

We all know that physical activity is good for our overall well-being. Yet, scientists have never determined exactly why that is. The University of Pittsburgh has been chosen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a large-scale collaboration to investigate why being active is beneficial for our health. 

John M. Jakicic, professor and chair of the Department of Health and Physical Activity in Pitt’s School of Education, will lead Pitt’s contributions to the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans program, which seeks to fully understand how physical activity affects the human body at the molecular level. Ultimately, the findings of this NIH endeavor could assist health professionals with physical-activity recommendations and strategies for individuals at various stages of life and with particular health needs.

The Pitt team is one of 19 research centers in the nation selected for this collaboration and will share about $170 million over the next six years for program research. This will be the largest-ever NIH investment into the study of how physical activity improves health and prevents disease.

The research teams will perform individual projects focused on the examination of internal bodily elements, such as hormones, nucleic acids, and proteins, that transmit the health effects of physical activity. They will then work to determine how certain variables — age, sex, and fitness level, among others — alter these molecular messengers. All of the findings will be housed in a publicly accessible database that future researchers can use to further the field of study.

The Jakicic-led team is one of six research teams that will recruit healthy adults from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds for an intensive exercise study. The team will collect blood, urine, and tissue samples from active and sedentary volunteers performing resistance and aerobic exercises. These samples will be shared with the other research teams in the collaboration. 

“The National Institutes of Health’s latest endeavor to examine the health effects of physical exercise on the human body could potentially transform clinical medicine’s use of physical activity as a treatment and preventive strategy,” said Jakicic.

“This collaboration will bring together some of the nation’s most advanced researchers in the field of health and physical activity, and the University of Pittsburgh is excited and proud to be a part of it.” 

A Pitt faculty member since 2002, Jakicic has primarily focused his research on the relationship between physical activity and longterm health outcomes. He is considered a national authority on these topics.

Earlier this year, Jakicic became one of  17 national experts appointed by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee. That committee is a collaborative effort to produce the 2018 edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which includes federal recommendations on the amount, intensity, and types of physical activity needed for Americans’ healthy lifestyles. 

Pitt faculty members will join Jakicic in his work. They are Daniel E. Forman, chair of the Section of Geriatric Cardiology within the Department of Medicine; Erin E. Kershaw, chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism within the Department of Medicine; Anne B. Newman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology within the Graduate School of Public Health; Bradley C. Nindl, director of the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition within the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; Lindsay C. Page, an assistant professor of research methodology within the School of Education and a research scientist within the Learning Research and Development Center; and Renee J. Rogers, an assistant professor of health and physical activity within the School of Education.