Ons 21 feb / År 42 / Nr 5 2023

Ageing in Focus at Sport Sciences Lab

The Sport Sciences Lab provides basic education to students of sports medicine at Umeå School of Sport Sciences (USSS) and facilitates research projects run by the County Council of Västerbotten and Umeå University. Two recent projects, Healthy Ageing Initiative and PHIBRA (PHysical Influences in BRain in Aging), focus on ageing and how to stay healthy as we grow older.

It’s when we become 70 that many of us are affected by lifestyle related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis. The Healthy Ageing Initiative is a project that screens all 70-year olds in Umeå municipality in order to get a check-up on their current health status. They’re offered advice on how to lead a more healthy life and follow-up studies after six months, one year and five years, respectively.

The project started 2.5 years ago and so far over 2,000 individuals have been screened at the Sport Sciences Lab located in the premises of IKSU Sport Centre, the largest fitness centre in northern Europe. The project is financed by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) and has basic funding until 2018.

”There are two aspects of the project. The first is the scientific data we produce, the second is the health benefits that’s gained as the people in the study implement the advice given in the tailor-made ’health talks’. Making an effort for a more healthy life when you’re 70 can make wonders. It can be small things like taking a brisk walk everyday or change your eating habits,” says Anna Nordström, Senior Physician in Behavioural Medicine and Associate Professor in Sports Medicine, who leads the group of ten scientists involved in the project at Umeå University.

The project also works with clinical studies at a molecular level, studying genes and using proteomics and metabolomics to develop tests that will make it easier to identify people in the risk of developing lifestyle related diseases.

”We run intervention projects based on the test results. For instance examining the correlation between inflammatory parameters and abdominal fat,” She adds.

Physical Exercise and Brain Function
Another project related to ageing and collecting some of the data at the Sport Sciences Lab is PHIBRA (PHysical Influences in BRain in Aging). It aims to understand how increased physical exercise affects multiple measures of brain function. Several studies have indicated that physical exercise has positive effects on mental abilities, like memory capacity, but little is known about why and how this works.

”We hope to gain insight about the underlying mechanisms and to understand why physical exercise transfers to better brain functions,” says Carl-Johan Boraxbekk, Principal Investigator of PHIBRA and Associate Professor at the Center for Demographic and Aging Research (CEDAR) and Umeå center for Functional Brain Imaging (UFBI), Umeå University.

One explanation of why ageing leads to reduced memory is that the dopamine system is affected by ageing. By using PET/CT imaging to study the brain’s function, it’s possible to discern whether a change in fitness level also affects dopamine receptors availability. No other study in the world has examined the effects of physical exercise (aerobic) in relation to the dopamine system in humans.

In the PHIBRA project, 60 people, aged 65-79, exercise three times a week by taking brisk walks, cycling and even running and is compared to a control group who train balance and stability. To be able to relate the changes in memory capacity to improved fitness, a comprehensive set of tests is used to map the individuals’ memory functions, as well as measuring physiological parameters, such as oxygen uptake and body composition. The first results will be analysed before this summer.

The Healthy Ageing Initiative and PHIBRA are academic projects. However, tests related to health and physical performance is to an increasing degree catching the interest of individuals and organisations alike, and commissioned research is a growing segment of the Sport Sciences Lab.

”Through our partners IKSU, Sports Medicine and Fysiometrics, external organisations and the general public have access to our facilities for doing tests,” Director Tobias Näslund concludes.