University of Victoria
The Ring - The University of Victoria's Community Newspaper

February 2005 · Vol 31 · No 2

New physical education labs redefine rehabilitation


Zehr works with 68-year-old stroke victim Brian Wright, while Rhodes looks on.

People who lose mobility through stroke or a spinal cord injury and people with lots of ability but no motivation are the focus of research being conducted in two new labs in the faculty of education's school of physical education.


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 using exercise bikes connected to video games so that 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 video games—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."


Zehr welcomes the opportunity to partner with Rhodes, who will conduct psychological assessments of Zehr's 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. 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 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 funded by NSERC and MSFHR, the B.C. Ministry of Health Services, the B.C. Knowledge and Development Fund and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.






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