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Date: January 19, 2005

New Movement Labs Redefine Rehabilitation

Those who lose mobility through stroke or a spinal cord injury and those with lots of ability but no motivation are the focus of research being conducted in two new labs at UVic. Kinesiologist Dr. Paul Zehr is using hand-cycling machines and treadmills to determine the role the spinal cord plays in stimulating the nerves needed for rhythmic movement, such as walking. In an adjacent lab, exercise psychologist Dr. Ryan Rhodes is studying what motivates people to commit to an exercise program. He’s currently using exercise bikes connected to video games so users must pedal faster to advance the game.

“We all know that physical activity plays an important role in preventing chronic diseases, but participation rates in B.C. remain low and appear to be decreasing among children and adolescents,” says Rhodes. While his research linking exercise and video games targets a specific group—young sedentary males with an interest in gaming—his work has applications beyond the able and unmotivated.

Zehr recognizes that motivation is also a key factor for those trying to overcome a disability through a rehabilitation program and yet, “there’s very little research on the effectiveness of follow-up therapy programs and why people are motivated to participate.” He welcomes the opportunity to partner with Rhodes, who will conduct psychological assessments of Zehr’s rehabilitation participants to determine which exercises they like most and why.

“I don’t regard the central nervous system as something that’s hard and broken. I consider it to have plasticity, with the capacity for re-organization and re-growth,” says Zehr about the theory behind his approach to rehabilitation. “For example, walking uses both arms and legs. The muscle stimulation from the nervous system is similar for both sets of limbs. Following a stroke, the spinal cord is still intact and I believe we can adjust exercise devices to engage the limbs that are still active to stimulate the spinal cord to send impulses to the stroke-affected areas.”

Zehr is also hopeful the same approach will help those with spinal cord injuries. Some of his research funding comes from the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation with the remainder from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Rhodes is also funded by NSERC and MSFHR, the B.C. Ministry of Health Services, the B.C. Knowledge and Development Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Media contacts:
Dr. Ryan Rhodes (Physical education) at (250) 721-8384 or rhodes@uvic.ca
Dr. Paul Zehr (Physical education) at (250) 721-721-8379 or pzehr@uvic.ca
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

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