Exercise Physiology established over a half-century ago, was initially aimed to explain mechanisms for elite athletic performance. The obesity epidemic began in the 1980’s and the type 2 diabetes epidemic began shortly thereafter. Exercise physiology evolved to consider the role of exercise in preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Simultaneously, the realization that the lack of daily physical activity is one actual cause of the lifestyle epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes was pioneered at the University of Missouri Health Activity Center, as well at a few other sites. Amazingly, it has come full circle with the realization that genes that play an important role in high cardiovascular and strength fitness also must play some role in high health. Coupled with data that high fitness is associated with a lower incidence of chronic diseases closes the circle of exercise physiology. Amazingly, the genes making elite athletes may be many of the same genes that prevent chronic diseases.
A key component of the Exercise Physiology program at the University of Missouri is that it is not just a list of faculty names, it is a team of faculty who interact in informal and formal ways to perform novel research and who use a team approach in teaching students and post-doctoral fellows.
Exercise physiology program crosses departmental and college lines at the University of Missouri. Faculty from different departments serve on graduate student committees together. Labs in different departments perform experiments together. The Exercise and Health: Molecules to Patient NIH training grants provide support to students in three schools/colleges (Human Environmental Sciences, Medicine, and Veterinary) from the Departments of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology, and of Biomedical Sciences, respectively.
The newly reorganized Nutrition Department at the University of Missouri, added Exercise Physiology to its name to reflect the realization that poor diet and lack of exercise are major environmental factors interacting with predisposing genes to pass a threshold for the overt expression of chronic disease. The Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Department has separate graduate programs for nutrition and exercise physiology degrees, but students and post-doctoral fellows often have unique research programs where they learn to use nutrition and exercise in their PhD and post-doctoral research.
The Department of Biomedical Sciences is the home of internationally renowned Exercise Physiology faculty, of the NIH training grant, and of a NIH Program Project grant that uses the pig as an animal model of human cardiovascular disease.
The Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology in the Medical School has vigorous training programs for Exercise Physiology in the regulation of blood flow in humans and rodents that are supported by multiple NIH training grants. The Gastrointestinal Division in the Department of Medicine has a very active research program in exercise’s prevention of non-alcoholic liver disease.
Numerous faculty studying Exercise Physiology have appointments and laboratories in the Dalton Cardiovascular Institute, whose director strongly supports the interactions of exercise physiology faculty across the University of Missouri campus. A strong program in the central regulation of cardiovascular regulation exists at the Dalton Cardiovascular Center, complementing the cardiovascular program in the Medical School.
Exercise physiology extends across many other disciplines at the University of Missouri campus. In addition to the above, faculty in behavioral sciences, companion animal wellness programs for the elderly, extension education, nursing, human wellness program, molecular biology, nursing, physical therapy, physicians, and skeletal muscle diseases have research programs in exercise or have collaborations with exercise researchers.
The Exercise Physiology training a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow receives at the University of Missouri does not end at a laboratory door, or for that matter, with a department. Students have the opportunity to learn exercise physiology in more than a department; they have a whole university at their disposal for their education.