Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology says exercise is the future of treating chronic disease

Linda Pescatello
Linda Pescatello

Ask Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology Linda Pescatello her thoughts on treating chronic disease, and she’ll say exercise prescription is the wave of the future. In almost twenty years as a professor at UConn, Pescatello has focused on fitness as it relates to health, particularly the effects of exercise on blood pressure and obesity.

Pescatello is committed to the science of exercise prescription. She is one of seventeen committee members on the US 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee

“Being chosen as a committee member is an incredible honor,” Pescatello says. “These guidelines for adults and children are based on the latest scientific evidence. We take our job very seriously. We realize the impact this has on our country as well as internationally.”

“Two out of three deaths in our country are due to chronic disease that could be prevented through physical activity, yet less than 20 percent of the people are meeting the recommendations for aerobic and resistance exercise,” says Pescatello. “The biggest challenge as we move forward will be motivating people to be more physically active. This takes grass roots efforts, and we all need to be involved in the process.”

In addition to the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, Pescatello was the senior editor of the ninth edition of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, the primary resource for ACSM certifications, as well as exercise testing and programming around the globe. These guidelines were first published in 1975 and are updated every four to six years. Pescatello has been involved in the guideline production for over a decade.

As an associate editor for the eighth edition, Pescatello established the FITT (frequency, intensity, time and type) principle of exercise prescription. This principle was adopted in subsequent editions, the most recent of which is the tenth edition, for which Pescatello was a reviewer.

As a researcher and student advisor, Pescatello directs or is involved in several research projects. She works with students from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources as well as from biology, physiology and neurobiology, and liberal arts.

Doctoral student Yin Wu developed a study in collaboration with UConn’s Department of Statistics and Department of Psychological Sciences, UConn Health and Seabury, a continuous care community in Bloomfield. The project is evaluating tai chi as a therapeutic intervention for older adults to improve general health, blood pressure and balance.

Amanda Zaleski is working toward a Ph.D. in kinesiology with a research project investigating behavioral interventions to address exercise adherence among people with hypertension. The study is a collaboration with UConn’s Department of Psychological Sciences and Hartford Hospital. Also involved in the project is kinesiology MS candidate Melody Kramarz, kinesiology undergraduate student Kyle McCormick and Lucus Porto Santos, a visiting scholar from Federal University of Rio Grande Do Sul in Brazil.

Pescatello and a committee of her colleagues and students are participants in the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) international initiative Exercise is Medicine. Paul Parducci, an MS student in the Department of Kinesiology, serves as physical activity counselor for all UConn students, working from UConn’s Student Health Services under the direction of Pescatello and Amy Dunham, registered dietitian and nutrition coordinator. Other members of the committee, which has obtained the gold level of recognition from ACSM, are Ellysa Eror, interim medical director of Student Health Services, and Kelly LaFleur, nurse practitioner. The Exercise is Medicine Initiative aims at improving the health of UConn students, faculty and staff by encouraging participants to become more physically active.

A project called Fit and Fired Up, involving graduate and undergraduate kinesiology students, including Parducci, Kramarz, Zaleski and doctoral student Burak Chiloroz, is studying thirty fire fighters from a local fire station and the influence of various physical fitness levels on their cardiovascular health. The study is also a collaboration with Associate Professor Beth Taylor and Assistant Professor-in-Residence Susan Glenney, the Department of Psychological Sciences and Hartford Hospital.

A project on the stigma of obesity is headed by doctoral student Greg Panza. Collaborators on this project include Taylor; Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center; and Hartford Hospital. This study is examining an acute exposure to obesity bias on the cardiovascular health of women with normal blood pressure and hypertension, under ambulatory conditions.

“In addition to our UConn partners for the Fit and Fired Up and obesity stigma projects, we’ve had the support of Paul Thompson and Antonio Fernadez, cardiologists in the Hartford Hospital Department of Preventive Cardiology,” says Pescatello.

The SPIRE (Synthesis of Prevention Intervention Research in Exercise) project is a collaboration between Pescatello; Distinguished Professor Blair Johnson from the Department of Psychological Sciences; and Hayley MacDonald, a former doctoral student in the Department of Kinesiology, now an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Alabama; and doctoral students Lauren Corso and Panza. SPIRE provides students with experience in high-quality, contemporary techniques in meta-analysis, a statistical approach that they use to evaluate the health benefits of physical activity among a variety of clinical populations including adults with cancer, hypertension and cognitive impairment, as well as healthy older adults.

To encourage the advancement of exercise prescription, Pescatello developed a nine-credit online graduate program in exercise prescription in conjunction with UConn’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning designed for professionals looking to expand their knowledge in this growing area of interest or change their career direction.

“We absolutely love what we do in this field,” Pescatello exclaims. “I am very fortunate to work in something I truly believe in.”

By Kim Colavito Markesich