How do you maintain and promote physical function during the aging process? Does it make a difference? That’s the essence of 13 years of research by Catherine Jankowski, PhD.
“The importance of a lifetime of physical activity is so evident,” Dr. Jankowski says. “Nurse practitioners can help convey the value of exercise to all kinds of people.”
Dr. Jankowski assesses physical function in older adults. She looks at subjective measures (how they think they’re doing) and how she observes them (such as going up a flight of stairs). “I want to understand what their perception and actual performance is,” she says.
She gathers information through exercise intervention studies. The researcher introduces exercise as a physiological stimulus to the participant and then looks at the system response (muscular or skeletal). Adaptations to the stimulus provide the data that will answer the particular scientific hypothesis.
“Our interventions are always designed with a scientific question in mind,” Dr. Jankowski says. “But there are certain modifications that may be contraindicated by the hypothesis. That’s why it’s so important to have a controlled environment.”
In Dr. Jankowski’s case, the controlled environment is her research lab on the third floor of the Luprino Building on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Exclusively designed for exercise intervention studies, the lab accommodates the older adult. There are lighter weights. Treadmills have extra safety measures. After personal training on the equipment, research assistants supervise exercise sessions.
Participants learn to record what they’ve done. “One of the goals is to empower the exerciser to take care of their own sessions,” Dr. Jankowski says.
The exercise training lab is part of a suite of research and data-collection services available. A clinic for drawing blood, space for research study visits and outpatient visits—all are on third floor Luprino. It’s a convenience for study participants.
The final report goes through a standard process for publication. Dr. Jankowski just submitted a revised manuscript to a European journal of applied physiology. It is a weight training study of middle age and older men, examining the effect of taking acetaminophen on muscle mass and bone density; and how using these medications may interfere with the benefits of training.
Wendy Kohrt, PhD, of CU’s School of Medicine is a co-investigator in that study. She and Dr. Jankowski are long-time colleagues.
With a doctorate in kinesiology, Dr. Jankowski came to Colorado in 1999 as a fellow in the School of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine IMAGE Group. This fall she joined CU’s College of Nursing faculty, retaining a secondary appointment in geriatric medicine. She teaches an online course of inferential statistics in the nurse practitioner program.
Maintaining relationships across a variety of schools and departments is a key benefit to being on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Dr. Jankowski says she can literally walk to the offices and clinics of colleagues in public health, geriatric medicine, internal medicine, endocrinology, physical therapy and so on, to share ideas and projects.
Dr. Jankowski is an enthusiastic campaigner for her favorite subject—the relationship between aging, muscle and bone health, and physical activity. She gives evidence-based lecture-demonstrations in the community. She hopes to bring interested nursing students to some of these presentations. “Now that I’m in the College of Nursing, I can engage students at many levels,” she says.
Dr. Jankowski embodies the best of a research university as she brings the benefits of her scientific research to encourage health in the greater population as it ages.