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UW-Eau Claire Nursing Professor and Student
Seek Women Ages 45-60 to Participate in Study

RELEASED: Jan. 26, 2009

UW-Eau Claire student Jill Tapper
UW-Eau Claire nursing student Jill Tapper is collaborating with Dr. Lee-Ellen Kirkhorn, associate professor of nursing, on a study investigating the relative benefits to middle-aged women of both exercise and other forms of leisure activity or social engagement. The study will build on a literature review, the results of which Tapper (above) presented last year at a national conference.

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire nursing faculty member and one of her undergraduate nursing students hope to recruit as many as 120 area women, 45 to 60 years old, to participate in a collaborative study that will investigate the relative benefits of both exercise and other forms of leisure activity or social engagement on the research subjects' mood and general sense of well-being.

Dr. Lee-Ellen Kirkhorn, associate professor of nursing, said everyone has heard about the physical health benefits of exercise, but she and senior Jill Tapper, Duluth, Minn., are more interested in finding out how exercise and other types of activities compare when it comes to affecting the sense of well-being or "emotional tone" of women negotiating the challenges of perimenopause and menopause, as well as the post menopausal years.

Tapper said they would like to find 30 women who are already following an exercise program of some regularity; 30 women who aren't currently exercisers but would like to begin exercising; 30 women who consider themselves socially engaged with others in pursing hobbies or volunteer activities; and 30 women who feel they are not currently socially engaged and consider themselves sedentary.

Kirkhorn and Tapper hope to begin recruiting this month and into February and get the study started as soon as possible after that.

"We think this will be a great time of year to conduct this study since so many people make New Year's resolutions to exercise more regularly and change their lives for the better," Kirkhorn said. "We hope some university faculty and staff women might be interested in participating, and we also hope to draw interested women from any of the many communities surrounding Eau Claire."

The research would involve several surveys and include a journaling component. Participants will fill out surveys that ask them to record their feelings at regular times, using descriptors such as "calm," "upbeat," energetic" or "tired," and also to keep journals that detail their daily activities and how their moods correlate to those activities, whether active or sedentary.

"Will we find, for example, that one woman gets as much of a mental "lift" from being in a quilting group as another woman gets from walking with a neighbor?" Tapper asked.

Tapper said such a finding might be highly significant for people who, for one reason or another, have a limited capacity for physical activity. Nurses who counsel women about the health benefits of physical activity and exercise may also be interested to know about the emotional benefits of social engagement and more sedentary activities, such as reading or knitting. It also will be useful to understand the relative impact of physical activity upon emotional well-being. Participants will meet or speak directly with the researchers three or four times during the course of the study.

"To begin on a level playing field, subjects recruited need to be relatively healthy middle-aged women not currently taking mood-altering drugs, such as antidepressants, or using alcohol excessively," Kirkhorn said, noting that all the participants will receive free pedometers to help them keep track of their physical activity levels.

Kirkhorn said this study will build on a literature review that she and Tapper conducted last year with the help of graduate student Sarah Parsch, who received her master's degree in nursing in December 2008. While literature is replete with examples of the benefits of exercise upon very old and very young women, there is a dearth of data that speaks directly to middle-aged women, the focus of the present investigation, Kirkhorn said.

Tapper, who is minoring in gerontology, created a poster about the literature review that was accepted last year for presentation at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Maryland. She has a particular interest in women's health and in working with and studying older adults. In high school she began working part time in a nursing home, and she has spent three years working with persons who have Alzheimer's disease. She currently works at Dove Healthcare in Eau Claire.

Anyone interested in being screened for participation in the study may contact Kirkhorn at 715-836-5005 or kirkholc@uwec.edu.

-30-

NW/JP

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