Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Slaven Gujic and Travis Neely
GCU News Bureau
An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but Grand Canyon University’s Dr. Zachary Zeigler, a professor in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, would tell you that daily exercise just might do the same.
A research study he led touts the health benefits of daily exercise in the latest issue of Exercise Medicine. The academic journal features an article by Zeigler and a team of students who are part of the University’s POWER Lab, one of the different academic areas of the Research and Design Program.
They spent about a year looking at the impact of daily exercise vs. exercising on alternating days to see if one is better than the other when it comes to lowering blood pressure in men diagnosed with hypertension.
“More than a third of the world’s deaths can be attributed to a small number of risk factors,” according to the article, using data from the World Health Organization. “Among the top five leading risk factors are hypertension, obesity and physical inactivity.” Forty-six percent of Americans are classified as having hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, and about 7.1 million deaths worldwide are attributed to the condition.
As it turns out, one mode of exercise seems to be better than the other, according to Zeigler and his team’s IDEA Study (it stands for Impact of Daily Exercise compared to Alternating). Exercising every day, as opposed to skipping a day or two in between, is better when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
“We only measured three days – at least when you’re looking at three (consecutive) days, it goes lower, lower, lower,” he said.
The team observed sedentary men ages 18-30 with elevated blood pressure. They were prescribed the same exercise intensity – 70 to 75 percent maximum heart rate over 90 minutes on a cycle ergometer. The daily exercise group performed exercise on three consecutive days in three bouts of 30 minutes each. The alternating exercise group performed exercise on two alternating days in two bouts about 45 minutes each.
The subjects — nine overweight, young, moderately fit male subjects with elevated blood pressure — remained in the laboratory for one hour after exercising while their blood pressure was taken every five minutes.
“Blood pressure is my area,” said Zeigler, whose book “The Weight Loss Bible: A Scientific Approach to Lose Weight and Keep it Off” was published earlier this year. “We wanted to assess if you go exercise right now, go run a mile, your blood pressure will lower maybe for 10 hours – some data shows 24 hours. So our big question is, what would happen if we have people exercise every day? So if you exercise Monday and your blood pressure is lower for 24 hours – so it’s already lower before you begin – will it be even lower after you exercise on Tuesday? Will exercise have an additive effect if you do it every day?”
The answer: Yes, it does. They did see a cumulative affect over those three days.
The study’s data showed that systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure were the lowest on Day 4 for the daily exercise group. Also, the average systolic blood pressure and post-exercise hypotension (the lowered blood pressure after exercise) were the lowest following exercise on Day 3 for the daily exercise group.
“Taken together, this suggests that the impact of exercise on the day or days prior indeed did accumulate to produce a pronounced blood pressure-lowering effect,” according to the research study.
The IDEA Study wasn’t limited to looking at the effects of daily exercise on blood pressure. The team also measured oxygen consumption, though that research is not published in this paper.
GCU biochemistry major Tabor Morse presented results from that portion of the IDEA Study in April at the 2018 Honors Showcase and College of Science, Engineering and Technology Spring Symposium, an event that showcased student research.
The team looked at the effects of daily exercise compared to alternating days of exercise on EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. It’s the scientific name for the afterburn effect, something that can help burn calories long after someone leaves the gym.
Morse said the group did find a slight increase in EPOC in the daily exercise group over those three days.
“That kind of shows that, from a weight-loss perspective, if you’re looking to lose weight, you just need to exercise every day,” he said, and with more intensity, though he added that weight loss and health don’t necessarily correlate – losing weight doesn’t necessarily equate to being healthier.
What all this translates to for anyone wanting to hit the gym to improve their health, whether it’s from a blood pressure or weight-loss perspective, is that health professionals are prescribing exercise differently. The standard used to be to exercise three to four days a week.
“The rationale in public health guidelines now is 150 minutes a week, typically 30 minutes a day, five days a week,” Zeigler said.
He added that, if just one session lowers blood pressure, “if that’s the case, we need to be pushing people to exercise every day.”
The importance of exercise is an idea embraced by GCU, which was designated as an Exercise is Medicine campus in the spring.
In addition to students, faculty and staff getting a prescription from health professionals at campus clinics for a medication they might need, they also might receive a prescription for exercise. The initiative encourages colleges and universities to promote physical activity for better health by making movement a part of the daily campus culture, assessing physical activity at every student health visit and providing tools to strengthen healthy physical activity habits.
Beyond the results of the study, what’s so significant about the publication of this research paper is that “this is the first project under that umbrella (the Research and Design Program’s POWER Lab) that has come all the way from data collection with our students to an actual published manuscript,” Zeigler said.
The POWER Lab is one of the different labs under the R&D Program and stands for Performance Optimization, Wellness and Exercise Research. It is designed to contribute to research in the areas of health, nutrition, kinesiology, biomechanical analysis, sports performance and cognitive strength.
What’s also important about the project is that GCU’s undergraduate students not only have the opportunity to do research – something many students don’t get to do until graduate school – they also can become published authors on academic papers.
“They’re getting a really good opportunity,” Zeigler said. “I as a student didn’t get to be an author on a paper. … The focus is different here. We want the students to get authorship.”
Several students were listed on the research paper as authors – Malachi Votaw, Connor Dreos, Lydia Durnil, Jamie Terran, Danielle Akin and Trevor Nordin — though Zeigler said, “I wish I could have put 20 students on there.”
Most of the students listed as authors have been accepted into physical therapy school, and a lot of the application process involved discussing research in which they were involved.
Morse said he loved being a student researcher on the IDEA Study: “I learned new things I wouldn’t have learned in class normally,” he said.
Zeigler added, “It’s just a sign of the push GCU is making to have research be a part of the academic program for our students.”
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at 602-639-7901 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul