What unites great research universities? It’s the impact they have on their community.
At the University of Calgary, sometimes that can mean helping the economy transform through new technologies. Or changing the urban fabric, from finding better ways to move, to spurring policies that foster equity and inclusion. Other times, it means improving people’s health.
As Dean of UCalgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology, I am far from neutral about our role in promoting movement and helping people regain mobility after an illness or injury. You don’t need to take my word for it. For the second time, our research in sport science is number one in North America according to the prestigious ShanghaiRanking. We are also 11th in the world. Quite something, given 479 universities were included.
This ranking measures the quality and breadth of our research. While we are proud of the calibre of our scholarship, we’re even prouder of how it improves the health of Calgarians, Albertans and other Canadians.
Our research has real-world applications that make a difference.
For instance, UCalgary faculty were instrumental in obtaining a ban on body checking for young hockey players. That resulted in a 64 per cent reduction in concussions among players aged 11 and 12 – about 4,800 fewer concussions a year.
We are also the only Canadian university directly funded by the National Football League to study concussions in young athletes and work to reduce them.
That’s important for both their immediate and long-term health. Injuries make it much more likely that athletes will abandon their sport, become more sedentary, and risk losing the health benefits that movement delivers at every age.
We’re expanding our learnings far beyond our campus. Recently, UCalgary held its first mass-enrollment online course, called a MOOC. It was led by one of our professors, in conjunction with University of Laval. The free course enabled more than 8,000 individuals to benefit from our expertise in how to prevent and best treat a concussion.
But many people do come to our campus. Indeed, one reason the Faculty of Kinesiology at UCalgary is such a leader in sport science is the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics. As a former Olympian myself, it is rewarding to see how these facilities enable Calgary to be a hub for high-performance winter sports.
Our campus community connections go beyond international level athletes to our very youngest. Each summer, about 11,000 children participate in our summer camps as we do our part to introduce them to the benefits of movement, play and sport.
We all know the benefits. But what exactly should we do at different ages and levels of health?
Our professors are determining what amount and intensity of exercise is best for any individual, based on factors such as age, overall health and specific illnesses. Broad advice to exercise for 20 minutes a day is no longer very helpful. We are working to provide specific guidance about how to be active in the best way possible.
The Faculty of Kinesiology is not only about reducing illness and injury. It is also about helping those recovering from it.
That includes our pioneering work using exercise to help cancer survivors. Our Alberta Cancer Exercise program, delivered on campus, has proven so beneficial that it is now being expanded throughout Alberta.
UCalgary is quickly gaining a reputation for our transdisciplinary scholarship. For example, our professors work alongside colleagues in medicine and engineering. In one case regarding obesity in youth, a professor found that a powdered fibre changed the behaviour of bacteria found in the gut. This in turn reduced body fat in children aged 7-12, helping to lower the risk of developing diabetes. It also reduced triglycerides – a type of fat that can lead to heart disease – by 19 per cent.
Winning international recognition is humbling and rewarding. Our Faculty of Kinesiology is proud of the accolades. But the tangible, beneficial impact we’re making on health fellow Calgarians is more rewarding still.
At UCalgary, we like to call ourselves the entrepreneurial university for how we tackle problems. Our ground-breaking work in sport science lives up to the tagline.
Dr. Penny Werthner is the Dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, and represented Canada at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
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