Power to the People: Carol Garber uses her research to promote exercise as “lifestyle medicine”

At the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, Carol Ewing Garber always attends a breakfast honoring the late Teachers College physiologist Josephine L. Rathbone.

“She was the only woman founder of ACSM,” says Garber, TC Professor of Movement Sciences, who just completed service as ACSM President. “Today more than half of the attendees at the annual meeting are women.”

Like Rathbone, whose program of “corrective physical education” included borrowings from Indian yoga gurus and an 18th century Swedish fencing master, Garber – a former clinical exercise physiologist who this year was inducted as a Fellow in the National Academy of Kinesiology – has used her research to promote physical activity as “lifestyle medicine.”

In 2011, an ACSM committee led by Garber issued new guidelines on exercising for good physical and mental health. In a first, the panel said that a little exercising is better than none and urged people to minimize sedentary time by walking around every hour or so.

As ACSM President, Garber campaigned to include exercise in medical records and connect physicians with the community. At TC, where she chairs the Department of Biobehavioral Sciences and coordinates the program in Applied Exercise Physiology, she has led a study linking low income and lack of education to declining physical function in the elderly and identified exercise that will help patients with spinal muscular atrophy.

Now, with an anonymous gift from a generous alumna, Garber is expanding TC’s movement science laboratories with a clinic that will test people at all levels of fitness and create individualized plans to increase speed, endurance and strength.

“Our labs are equipped to provide Maximal Oxygen Uptake testing, Anaerobic Power Tests, Body Composition, Muscular Strength and other fitness testing,” Garber says. “Unless you have something wrong with your lungs or heart, you don’t get to do these tests. We’ll be doing it to maintain and improve health.

“There has been little long term success in interventions aimed at increasing physical activity, sometimes because the information is too complex,” she adds. “So our goal is also to give people what they need to know.”

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