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New professor: Exercise is the best Rx

12/3/14

A new assistant professor of biology at MCLA, Dr. Sarah Herrick is the go-to person when it comes to human anatomy. But while that’s her specialty, she’s also an exercise physiologist.

Sarah HerrickAs such, she examines how the human body works in response to exercise, as well as ways that an increased understanding of this study might help those with chronic diseases like diabetes, and even cancer.

“My hope is that real-life experiences may help illustrate training concepts and provide better ‘evidence’ on the effect of exercise on the human body,” Herrick said.

Next semester, she’ll bring her expertise as a personal trainer to her course in “Exercise Physiology.” In the meantime, students in her upper-level biology seminar are doing research on “exercise medicine,” as Herrick shares her experience in human research and personal training to support class discussions.

“Each week, a student is responsible for choosing and presenting a research article that involves an exercise intervention on a special population,” she explained. “The students, I believe, have taken to the topic and have developed a new understanding of the concept of exercise as a therapeutic tool and not just a way to improve athletic ability.”

Because many of her students want to go on to medical school or to embark on health-field careers to become physician’s assistants, physical therapists or nurses, Herrick wants those students in particular to know that there are many ways to “treat” patients.

“Not all of them have to deal with a prescription,” she said.

Recently, Herrick attended the New England American College of Sports Medicine’s annual region conference in Providence, R.I., to present her dissertation abstract, “The Acute Effect of Yoga on Inflammation and Stress in Healthy Women,” as a poster.

She aims to bring more awareness to the value of exercise on the human body and the way it functions. “I hope to contribute to MCLA by making efforts to put forth a new major in health science, or maybe exercise science, and expose the students to exercise testing and human research.”

While she has a clear focus and direction for her career, that calling wasn’t always apparent to her. She came across the field of exercise physiology quite by accident. As an undergraduate, she changed colleges three times and her major seven times.

Although she originally planned to teach physical education, “I hated it,” Herrick said.

“I loved the teaching. I loved the activity and movement. But, I hated the politics associated with primary and secondary education and the lack of respect for PE as a subject,” she explained. “So, I swapped majors for the final time to physical education and health promotion.”

After taking an exercise physiology course – which combined her love of exercise with her favorite subject, science – she knew she’s found the right field.

“The human body is an amazing specimen to explore, and exercise is a ‘controlled’ stress we can place on it to see how well it can adapt,” Herrick said. “I have always been interested in human biology and how our inner workings work and complement each other. I have also been an avid athlete and exerciser, so I think this field complements both of my passions nicely.”

She added, “The human body is AMAZING, and can adapt to most anything it is exposed to. One ‘rule’ from my graduate training is that the body becomes more efficient the more you ‘beat it up.’ Not many things in the world can adapt as well as we can, so we need to understand how, and why.”