HEART Lab Takes Research to Boston

Students working to improve cardiovascular health with the Ursinus HEART Lab joined more than 14,000 attendees at the Experimental Biology Conference.

Three student research teams from the Health and Exercise Physiology Department presented research on HEART Lab cardiovascular studies at the annual multidisciplinary scientific meeting which attracts students from colleges, universities and graduate schools across the country.

The HEART (Hypertension and Endothelial function with Aerobic and Resistance Training) lab examines the effects of lifestyle modifications on cardiovascular health, with a focus on exercise interventions aimed at improving health, increasing adherence to exercise, as well as reducing weight and cardiovascular risk.  

Senior Joy Oakman, who had studied the connection between joint alignment, range of motion and cardiovascular health, specifically examining foot and knee angles, presented her research. Previous studies have shown that obesity is closely related to flat footedness and misalignment of the lower extremities, which can hinder range of motion and lead to a decreased motivation to exercise.

Her study measured stationary angles of the knee and ankle, as well as knee flexion range of motion, foot dorsiflexion range of motion, and foot inversion/eversion range of motion, combined with standard measures of cardiovascular health such as VO2max, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, body composition, 3-day diet logs, blood vessel ultrasounds, clinic blood pressure, and 24-hour blood pressure monitoring.

Senior Christina Cromwell presented her research on gender difference in cardiovascular health. She studied the health of the carotid artery and collecting data on fasting blood glucose levels and cholesterol in both males and females. The intima-media thickness (IMT), a measurement of thickness of the artery wall, was measured with non-invasive methods to determine a relation between the carotid IMT and the presence and severity of atherosclerosis.

It was based on the literature that states that females have better cardiovascular health than males until the sixth decade, or post-menopause stages of life. The study measured vascular health through an ultrasound of the carotid artery intima-media thickness, blood pressure with a 24-hour monitor, and blood glucose and cholesterol levels with a finger stick. The study confirmed that females do have significantly better cardiovascular health than males, however there was no significant difference in vascular health measures because of the young average age of subjects.

Senior Jessica Lenzo compared Ursinus students to campus faculty and staff in different measures of cardiovascular health including: 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure, glucose/cholesterol measures, and VO2max of the two populations. Previous studies have focused on adults over 50 years of age, but not on young and middle-aged adults, prompting the HEART Lab to compare students with a mean age of 20 and faculty/staff (mean age 43) to see if heart health differed among these age groups

The 19 students in the HEART lab run the tests under the guidance of Director Dr. Deborah Feairheller, assistant professor in the Health, Exercise and Physiology Department. The studies presented in Boston are:

The Relationship between Foot and Knee Angle and Cardiovascular Health, by Joy Oakman;

Carotid Artery IMT, Blood Pressure, and Fasted Glucose and Cholesterol Levels in Males and Females, by Christina Cromwell;

Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health in College Students and Campus Faculty/Staff, by Jessica Lenzo.

Some of the other ongoing HEART Lab studies are on joint angles of injured and non-injured athletes; cardiovascular health of firefighters and a healthy population and the effect carrying gear on the cardiovascular health of athletes.