Appetite and exercise study teaches
that collecting data has human side © Dec. 24, 2008, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich math instructor Darlene Olsen breathes through a tube during a study on the effects of exercise on hunger at Norwich University.

photo by Jay EricsonDarlene Olsen, a math instructor at Norwich, participates in a study on the effects of exercise on hunger. Assistant physical education Professor Elizabeth Wuorinen [left] and student Lauren Pacelli read data in the background.

Monica Selander and Lauren Pacelli, scholars and athletes at Norwich University, are discovering that lessons they’ve learned from a hands-on research project are often as practical as they are academic.

“I’ve learned that research can be fun; that it’s not always working in a lab coat looking at data ... but interacting with people,” says Pacelli.

In a small room in the Human Performance Laboratory on the third floor of the Tompkins Science Building, the students work with Elizabeth Wuorinen, assistant professor of biology and physical education. It’s a research project on the effects of exercise on appetite levels of middle-aged women.

“When applying to med school, having interaction with patients is really valuable and hard to get. I got it from this study,”

~ Monica Selander,
biology major

The study brings subjects, aged 35 to 50, to the Northfield, Vt., campus of the nation’s oldest military college three times. For the first visit, participants are physically inactive. Next, they use a treadmill for an hour at a moderate pace. The third time, they do a high-intensity workout for 30 minutes. Periodically, blood is drawn and subjects answer questions about their hunger level. Then, they eat as much as they want and that intake is measured.

Results suggest lack of activity may increase the amount a person eats.

“Obesity is the brunt of the question,” says Wuorinen. “There are tremendous obesity rates right now. I want to figure out how we can affect this with exercise instead of using drugs. Can we lose weight in a healthy manner; can we trick our brains through exercise?”

On a rainy day in December 2008, Darlene Olsen, an assistant professor in the Norwich math department, strolls on the treadmill with an iPod in her ears and space-age breathing apparatus covering her head. This is the low-intensity workout.

A computer registers Olsen’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which tell researchers what type of fuel [carbohydrates or fats] she is using.

“You’re done,” Pacelli tells Olsen, and carefully removes the apparatus. Olsen sits in a chair sipping water while Selander, a trained phlebotomist, squats to draw her blood.

It’s Pacelli’s job to take the sample to the lab, where she uses a centrifuge to separate plasma from red blood cells. With a pipette, she drops the plasma into test tubes labeled with the subject’s initials, date and time. It will be tested for various hormones to see how levels change depending on the amount and intensity of exercise and food intake.

“I am a hands-on learner,” says Pacelli, from Auburn, N.Y. This lab experience, she explains, is more valuable than “sitting in a classroom and being talked to.”

A biology major, Pacelli learned of the study through a class with Wuorinen. She believes the lab work reinforces classroom studies. “I’ve been able to learn about hunger and hormones by seeing the changes in blood glucose levels. You’re told that in class. This way, I am able to see that when I do testing of blood samples.

“I’ve learned that trials don’t always go the way they are supposed to,” she adds. “I learned how to test people, set up equipment, [and] use a centrifuge.”

Most valuable of all, she said, is working one-on-one with a professor. Pacelli is considering graduate school for exercise physiology or food science following graduation.

After drawing blood, Selander hands Olsen a heating pad for her arm. Sometimes, it’s difficult to draw blood, Selander explains. Warmth makes it flow more easily. “This is definitely one of the challenges of the trial,” Selander says. “I feel like I’m the bad guy sometimes [when drawing blood.] But we have fun to relax the subject.”

Selander is a biology major from Caribou, Maine. She’s planning to study medicine.

“When applying to med school, having interaction with patients is really valuable and hard to get. I got it from this study,” she says.

Wuorinen, Selander adds, is great to work with. “She’s awesome; very relaxed and very positive. She’s really a great role model. It makes you want to work harder for someone who is like that.”

Both students are active; Selander plays guard for the Norwich girls basketball team, while Pacelli, a soccer player, is an assistant coach for soccer and lacrosse teams. This study has been more than academic for them, suggesting that when people are sedentary, they ask for food faster and eat more. It’s information relevant to everyone.

“I need to exercise more,” says Pacelli. “When you exercise at the higher intensities, you are less likely to eat.”