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Conversation shift

Learning how obese but fit individuals gain protection from adverse health conditions


By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

The words obesity and fitness are not typically used together when referring to a person’s health.

Despite this, a group of researchers at Memorial University is seeking to explore their connection through an upcoming project.

Dr. Fabien Basset, associate professor with the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial, and Dr. Denis Joanisse, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Université Laval, who is visiting Memorial on sabbatical, are collaborating to look at the effect of moderate physical activity on four distinct groups.

The groups will consist of an overweight fit group, an overweight sedentary group, a lean fit group and a lean sedentary group, with fit being determined by physical activity capacity and endurance.

“Increasingly we understand that it’s more important to improve health and positively impact how a body works, not what it looks like.” — Dr. Denis Joanisse

“Increasingly we understand that it’s more important to improve health and positively impact how a body works, not what it looks like,” said Dr. Joanisse. “We want to help shift the conversation from a focus on weight to one about fitness and health. Understanding how fitness can control the metabolic profile of obesity is an important step in developing better strategies to improve the health of patients.”

The novelty of the researchers’ project resides in its experimental design that shows how, as the result of being physically active, obese but fit individuals are protected from many adverse health conditions.

“We want to understand the metabolic activity in play when we challenge bodies in the same way, but they react differently,” said Dr. Basset. “Metabolic challenge induced by physical activity involves the transformation of energy and matter in the body and these reactions maintain life. Therefore, if we have an understanding of how to positively influence metabolic activity, we can potentially improve quality of life.”

Drs. Joanisse and Basset in the lab with their graduate students
Dr. Fabien Basset (right) and Dr. Denis Joanisse (left) are exploring the question what is the impact of fitness on metabolic health of obese individuals. Graduate students Sana’a Alsubheen (middle right), Alicia Baker (middle left) and Mohammad Ismail (back) will be working on the project.
Photo: Chris Hammond

This project, which has received funding from the Mitacs Accelerate Program, will provide evidence on the actual contribution of fitness to metabolic health and how this happens in the body. It will provide objective measures to more effectively evaluate the risk to patients and guide clinicians and researchers to provide targets for lifestyle objectives.

“This high-quality applied health research aligns well with key research themes in Newfoundland and Labrador,” explained Dr. Basset. “The findings could contribute to the effectiveness of the health- care system in the province and beyond to address important health issues related to obesity.”

Dr. Basset has an interest in metabolic disorders induced by environmental factors. Dr. Joanisse is interested in the area of metabolic health in humans, particularly insulin resistance. Together, they are bringing together professors from exercise physiology to biochemistry in order to increase their capacity to answer the question: What is the impact of fitness on metabolic health of obese individuals?

In addition to Drs. Basset and Joanisse, members of the team from Memorial include Dr. Sukhinder Cheema and Dr. Vikram Chandurkar. Dr. Cheema is an associate professor with the Department of Biochemistry. She will be providing analyses and assist in the interpretation of the data. Dr. Chandurkar is an assistant professor with the Faculty of Medicine. He will assess the medical condition of the participants in addition to assisting in understanding and interpreting the data related to metabolic health and endocrinology.

For more information, please contact fbasset@mun.ca. Mitacs is sponsored by The Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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