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CU Anschutz study aims to help doctors prescribe exercise

When the results come, researchers hope doctors can be a little more precise with their messages to patients, instead of just saying "exercise more."

AURORA, Colo. — Exercise is good for all parts of a person's body, but doctors don't know how cells in the body actually respond. Dr. Wendy Kohrt, a Distinguished Professor of Medicine at CU Anschutz, is hoping to help change that.

“I’m just a firm believer that exercise is medicine," Kohrt said. "And we have to understand how to utilize that better to help people manage their own health." 

She is leading the CU Anschutz portion of a national study called MoTrPAC at the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. 

MoTrPAC stands for Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium. According to CU Anschutz, the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the "largest targeted investment into the mechanisms of how physical activity improves health and prevents disease." 

“We don’t have enough knowledge to know what type of exercise, what dose, how intense, how frequent," Kohrt said. "We really need to be able to tell somebody to exercise to have the health benefit. We have a broad understanding of that, but we need a much more precise understanding for that to be used clinically." 

Celia Enstrom is one of the thousands of study participants across the country. She works out in the exercise lab while researchers watch her closely and take blood, muscle tissue and fat samples from her. 

“I’m excited for when the results do eventually come out," said Enstrom, who begins medical school this fall. 

When the results do come, researchers hope doctors can be a little more precise with their message to patients, instead of just saying "exercise more."

"I view that as the equivalent of my doctor giving me a big bottle of pills with no instructions on which ones to take when, how many to take. It is much too vague," Kohrt said. 

She sees a future with prescription exercise. 

"So if we know that exercise is touching those same factors that are targets for medicines that we take to prevent disease or treat disease, then we’ll be able to better use exercise to prevent or treat diseases," she said. 

CU Anschutz is still recruiting study participants. Anyone interested can email MoTrPAC@ucdenver.edu.

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