May 30, 2012

In the Simmons School’s Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness, faculty and students examine the biological basis of health and fitness.

During one of the department’s recent Research on Exercise and Wellness Colloquiums, Peter Weyand shared with the SMU community insights from his groundbreaking analyses of the mechanics of running. Weyand, an associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics, directs the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory.

The most important factor driving performance is how hard runners hit the ground in relation to their body weight, he says. “Runners are a lot like bouncing balls. The vertical force propels them upward and momentum carries them forward.”

Weyand believes “research shouldn’t stop at the lab door. It’s important to make sure the public understands our scientific findings and how we translate them into practice.”

Last month Weyand received a three-year grant totaling $892,058 from the U.S. Army to focus on “quantifying the effect of loads on physiological stressors – such as metabolic rate and locomotor performance – over relatively short distances.”

“The overburdened foot soldier is a major issue for the army, and it needs guidance to evaluate the trade-offs involved in adding gear and technology that results in loading down the soldier. Pack weights can be 120 pounds or more,” he explains.

Other scientific investigations explore the function and dysfunction of human biological systems. In the department’s new Applied Physiology Laboratory, researchers use state-of-the-art equipment to study the autonomic nervous system in healthy and clinical populations. The autonomic nervous system controls heart rate, respiration, digestion, perspiration and other functions.

Assistant Professor Scott L. Davis directs the lab. In research funded by National Multiple Sclerosis Society grants, Davis examines autonomic dysfunction specifically related to thermoregulation and blood pressure control in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system and afflicts an estimated 2.1 million people worldwide.