Women’s exercise intervention study brings together tornado victims, improves health and wellness

Women participating in Kinesiology study

Out of nearly 40 women participating in a Kinesiology research study, three participants were highly impacted by the March 3, 2019, Lee County tornadoes. One participant lost eight family members, one lost her brother and sister, and another is an elementary school teacher who lost two students.

Arlene Brown lost several of her first and second cousins when the EF-4 tornado devastated Beauregard and the surrounding area. “It was 4-5 miles from my house,” said Brown. “The door was shaking and I heard what sounded like thunder, but it didn’t stop.”

The family endured three funerals in one day. Despite the tragedy, Brown still made it to her scheduled workout sessions three times per week for the research study. The week following the tornado was the first of three waves of mid-point testing during week 6 of the program.

Doctoral student Ashley Peart is leading the study for her dissertation under the mentorship of Danielle Wadsworth, Ph.D., director of the Exercise Adherence and Obesity Prevention Laboratory in the School of Kinesiology.

“We said this is the year to get in shape!” Brown exclaimed. “I’m surprised at how much weight I can lift. Sometimes we think we can’t do it, but we do it anyway! Everybody is having a good time.”

There is a special bond among the women in the study. They look forward to coming to work out and socialize, despite the recent tragedy. The exercise actually made them feel better, even though they were going through a very difficult time.

“These are some amazing women,” said Peart. “They are so committed and we’ve definitely seen improvement. For example, I’ve seen a 1-rep bench max go from 45 pounds to 105 pounds after 5 weeks, and a 1-rep squat max go from 95 pounds to 225 pounds.”

The study is a 10-week intervention with pre- and post-testing. The researchers measure blood pressure and waist circumference. Approximately 40 women who were sedentary with one or more metabolic risk factors, such as high blood pressure, started as participants in the study in February.

Peart will finish data collection at the end of April. At the conclusion of the program, the researchers will conduct interviews with the participants to go over their changes. They will select an exercise program to continue and check-in after a total of 16 weeks for post-measures in August. The researchers are examining exercise adherence after the intervention. Peart will defend her dissertation this summer.

Several undergraduate students in Kinesiology help the participants with weight lifting technique and provide spotting. They also give suggestions for stretching and exercises they can do at home to continue healthy habits.

“Some of this I can continue to do at home, like the weights,” said Brown. “This program has made me think about when I don’t have enough water, or I can tell when I eat better I feel better working out. It has made me more aware. I can tell a difference using muscles I didn’t know I had. It’s working!”

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