University of Calgary

Undergrad contributes to research on exercise and brain health

UToday HomeJanuary 9, 2013

Nicole Fuginski received PURE funding to participate in the Brain in Motion study as a undergrad researcher. Courtesy of Nicole FuginskiNicole Fuginski received PURE funding to participate in the Brain in Motion study as a undergrad researcher. Courtesy of Nicole FuginskiCan exercise improve brain health as people age? It’s the kind of searching question that raises new medical possibilities -- and that motivated Nicole Fuginski to spend this past summer conducting research as part of an innovative brain study at the University of Calgary.

“It’s an area of research that has the potential to have a huge impact on kinesiology and society, especially as our society ages,” says Fuginski, a recent BSc in Kinesiology graduate who received a $6,000 award through the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) in April 2012.

Fuginski used the award to explore her interest in medical research, working as a laboratory assistant from May to August for Dr. Marc Poulin, a professor in the faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology. Poulin and his team of researchers are studying the impact of regular exercise on 250 Calgarians between 55 and 90 years old, most of whom have exercised very little.

“The study is looking at how aerobic exercise might be able to mitigate or help prevent normal decline in brain functions,” explains Fuginski, describing the five-year Brain in Motion study which began in 2010 and is investigating the relationship between exercise, blood flow in the brain and memory skills. As part of the team, Fuginski collected diet history from participants, carried out different measurements to assess health and fitness levels, and helped to quantify and analyze exercise tests.

“It’s been a really positive experience. What I’ve most enjoyed is the feedback I’ve received from my mentors,” she says of the team, which in addition to Poulin, includes PhD candidate Amanda Tyndall and study coordinator Grazyna Burek. “They’ve been extremely supportive, asking great questions, providing encouragement and helping me to become a more critical scientific thinker.”

Fuginski says she chose to work on the research project because of her strong interest in health and wellness, an interest she’s pursued previously as a physiotherapist’s assistant at the campus Sport Medicine Centre and as a volunteer at the university’s Thrive Centre, which supports cancer survivors in reaching their fitness goals. She’s also been an advisor for Athletics in Residence, a group focused on encouraging students to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.

“Whenever there’s an opportunity to support health and wellness programs, I always try to get involved,” she says.

She credits her recent research experience with helping her to grow and mature as student.

“I was able to apply what I knew in theory to a real-life job environment. I was helping the scientific process, instead of just learning about it. I now feel more well-rounded and marketable as a graduate,” says Fuginski, who is currently applying to different medical schools across Canada.

The PURE program is currently taking applications for the 2013 funding year: apply online by Feb. 11.