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This section provides examples of current research activities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is not intended to be a comprehensive list.
The workshop examined effective evidence-based interventions for initiating and sustaining physical activity, barriers to achieving the federal Physical Activity Guidelines published in 2008, NIH's physical activity research portfolio, and current and emerging research methodologies. Additional workshop topics included: the NIH's interest in supporting innovative research to improve physical activity assessment and research methods used with diverse age and racial/ethnic populations; the need to identify barriers and facilitators to achieving national physical activity guidelines across population groups; new partnerships within the NIH and across federal agencies; and prioritizing the NIH physical activity research agenda.
The NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) includes two branches that support physical activity research—the Health Behaviors Research Branch (HBRB) and the Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch (RFMMB). Through the Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, the DCCPS also supports research on the influence of physical activity both in cancer risk and prognosis. The DCCPS provides information about monitoring and assessing physical activity within national, regional, and at-risk subpopulations in the United States, because accurate assessment of physical activity is important to understanding the relationship between physical activity and cancer. The HBRB supports research on cancer prevention behaviors and outcomes, and it provides leadership in these areas by focusing research on effective, multilevel influences and approaches to individual, relational, environmental, and community-based interventions. The RFMMB supports the collection of physical activity data in existing and planned surveys. In doing so, it is attempting to develop more complete assessments of individuals' physical activity based on information derived from multiple contexts, including transportation, occupation, and recreation. The RFMMB also supports research to develop measures of the built and transportation environment and other environmental factors that influence levels of physical activity in populations. In addition to working with the National Collaboration on Childhood Obesity Research , the RFMMB, along with colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have led efforts to update the Youth Compendium of Physical Activity. They have developed web-based resources to provide investigators with tools for physical activity assessment at the individual and environmental level. The RFMMB also conducts and supports methodologic research to evaluate and improve physical activity assessment. For a list of physical activity intervention programs, visit the NCI Research-tested Intervention Programs website.
The NIDDK supports a range of studies that include various aspects of physical activity. The Institute considers physical activity as a component of behavioral lifestyle intervention approaches that are designed to influence outcomes of primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention for health promotion in areas of interest to the Institute. NIDDK extramural programs support basic, clinical, translational, and evaluation research that includes physical activity as a primary or secondary focus across outcomes associated with various diseases and conditions. Of primary interest are diabetes, endocrinology, and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases and nutrition-related disorders including obesity; and chronic kidney disease. Areas of investigation include exercise and other lifestyle modifications, as well as education programs; effects of physical activity/exercise on appetite, weight control, and health; studies of impact of various forms of physical activity on metabolic fitness and health risk. This includes studies on the effects of physical activity on problems of nutrient imbalance; investigations incorporating determination of the effect of physical activity/exercise on body weight or composition; study of the impact of various forms of physical activity on metabolic fitness; research directed at identification of genes influencing physical activity levels, patterns of gene expression associated with this trait, and mechanisms of regulation of these patterns; and basic and clinical research related to the prediction, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
The NIA Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology supports research on health and disease in the aged and research on aging over the human lifespan, including its relationship to health outcomes. The Division is comprised of three Branches—Geriatrics, Clinical Gerontology, and Clinical Trials—two of which, the Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology Branches, support physical activity research. The Geriatrics Branch focuses primarily on health issues regarding the aged. Research emphases include the effects of physical activity on geriatric syndromes, disability, mobility, and complications of comorbid diseases. Specific topics include examining the mechanism by which physical activity: affects the rates of progression of age-related declines in function; prevents or reduces the severity of age-related diseases, disorders, and disability; delays the onset of disabilities and life-threatening comorbid diseases; reduces the risk of falls and fractures; improves mobility and balance; and improves mood and relieves depression. The Clinical Gerontology Branch focuses on clinically-related research on aging changes over the lifespan. Research emphases include long-term effects of physical activity throughout the lifespan and other topics such as: factors affecting development of age-related conditions and disease risk factors (particularly for multiple age-related conditions) and interventions that influence these factors; exceptionally healthy aging (including exceptional longevity); protective factors against multiple age-related conditions; menopause and midlife aging changes; translational human research to follow up findings from basic research on aging; and long-term effects of current or new interventions that may be administered over a large part of the lifespan.
Both the Division of Musculoskeletal Diseases (DMD) and the Division of Rheumatic and Skin Diseases (DSRD) support basic, translational, and clinical research on physical activity. Research approaches supported may include, but are not limited to, molecular and cell biology, animal models, genetics and genomics, biopsychosocial/behavioral research, and outcomes and health services research. The DMD supports research aimed at preventing diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system and its component tissues. Conditions include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, back and neck pain, and muscular dystrophy. The DSRD supports research leading to prevention of diseases and conditions of the skin, as well as adult and pediatric rheumatic diseases. Research areas include physical activity interventions to prevent pain and advancement to disability.
As described in NCCIH's Strategic Plan, mind and body research encompasses a wide variety of interventions which are based in physical procedures or techniques administered or taught to others by a trained practitioner or teacher. Examples include interventions using tai chi, yoga, Pilates, and other types of physical activity. Emerging evidence of promising clinical effects of many mind and body approaches points toward important opportunities to advance the science and practice of symptom management and health promotion. In many cases, the evidence is strengthened by an intriguing and growing body of basic and clinical research employing the tools and technology of the fields of neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology, psychology, behavioral medicine, physical medicine, and biomechanics.
Through basic, translational, and clinical research, the NCMRR aims to foster development of scientific knowledge needed to enhance the health, productivity, independence, and quality of life of people with physical disabilities. The NCMRR supports physical activity research on topics such as: repair and recovery of motor and cognitive function; functional plasticity, adaptation, and windows of opportunity for rehabilitative interventions; and rehabilitative strategies involving pharmaceutical and neuroengineering approaches, exercise, motor training, and behavioral modifications.
The LIFE trial was the largest trial ever undertaken to prevent mobility disability among older people who are at risk of losing their ability to walk and to live independently in the community. Study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group followed a structured intervention consisting of walking at moderate intensity, stretching, balance, and lower extremity strength training; the control group participated in a health education program. The participants were followed for about 3 years. Researchers will evaluate whether, compared with health education, the physical activity intervention reduces the risk of major walking disability, serious fall injuries, and disability in activities of daily living, and whether it improves cognitive function. Study investigators also will assess the cost-effectiveness of the intervention.
The mission of the NCCOR is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and application of childhood obesity research and to halt and reverse childhood obesity through enhanced coordination and collaboration. The NCCOR focuses on efforts that have the potential to benefit children, teens, their families, and the communities in which they live. Physical activity-related projects include efforts to develop a Youth Energy Expenditure Compendium , as well as a Measures Registry that includes assessment measures of diet and physical activity at the individual and environmental level. This registry will be expanded to encompass users' guides about which measures are best for specific research questions and study designs. A special emphasis is put on the populations and communities in which obesity rates are highest and rising the fastest: African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and children living in low-income communities. The NCCOR is a collaboration among the NIH, including the NCI, NHLBI, NICHD, NIDDK, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), and the Division of Nutrition Research Coordination; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.