Curves continues health study

Feb. 14, 2006

by SARAH GORDON, staff writer

A revolution in the fitness world is under way at Baylor as Curves Women's Health Initiative research teams continue to make significant diet and exercise findings for one of the world's largest fitness center franchises.

Baylor and Curves began a five-year study in May 2004 in conjunction with the health, human performance and recreation department and the engineering and computer science department.

The multimillion-dollar study is the most comprehensive look at women's health to be conducted so far, said Dr. Richard Kreider, professor and chairman of health, human performance and recreation.

"You look at health sciences in general and there haven't been nearly enough studies focused on women's health," Kreider said.

Gary Heavin, founder and current CEO of Curves, partnered with Baylor's Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory to evaluate the resistance training program and women's diet and exercise patterns in general.

The Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory collected data from more than 400 women who completed the 14-week program. This data, along with statistics from more than 500 women in the process of completing the program, is the source of analysis in several different tests.

Some of the tests include the impact of high-protein and high-carbohydrate diets, calcium supplementation in post-menopausal women and how crash dieting affects women's metabolism.

New studies are continuing to develop from ongoing research. Kreider said a new area of study the lab is looking into is how certain diets affect gene expression.

"Our research has had a profound effect so far. We're proving what works best with women and dieting," Kreider said.

While the health, human performance and recreation department works on the diet and fitness aspect of Curves, the engineering and computer science department is updating the look and design of the machines.

"Right now, the machines are mechanical. The next generation will be electronic," said Dr. Ian Gravagne, professor of engineering.

The Curves fitness program uses hydraulic machines that conform to the strength of the user. In other words, a stronger user can operate the machines at a faster pace and in turn feel more resistance. Weaker users work out at slower paces with less resistance.

The advantage of the Curves program is that participants don't have to change the weight of machines between use.

"What you put into it is what you get out of it," St. Louis senior and Curves instructor Rachel Farris said.

Farris said she is impressed with most of the machines because they aren't hard on the body.

"Just like with any science, there are always ways you can tweak it. These improvements will optimize workouts more," Farris said.

Right now, the engineering and computer science departments are trying to adjust the geometric linkage and hydraulics of 13 machines to custom-fit each user's workout.

"These new machines will be able to track how hard you worked out from session to session," Gravagne said.

The statistics from previous workouts will be stored on the machines, and users can keep track of their progress.

One problem with circuit training is that there isn't time to adjust machines for resistance, like with other machine weights. Another aspect of these "smart machines" will be the ability to automatically adjust to the user's physical traits.

Although they're in between idea and prototype stages right now, Heavin wants to debut the new machines in the fall of 2006.