National award for exercise research into artery health

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Dr Meegan Walker with a shot of beetroot juice at the USC Athletics Track

A USC researcher has won a national industry medal for her PhD thesis that examined why blood vessels function poorly as people age and how beetroot juice could boost blood flow and reduce arterial stiffness.

The good news for people hoping to avoid cardiovascular disease has become good news for Lecturer in Clinical Exercise Physiology Dr Meegan Walker, who has been awarded the 2019 Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) Medal.

The medal is awarded annually to the most outstanding PhD thesis in exercise and sports science in Australia. It is the first time the medal has been awarded to a USC graduate.

Dr Walker’s thesis was titled ‘Blood flow during passive leg movement: impact of vascular disease and nitrate supplements’.

It identified interventions, such as beetroot supplements, that could enhance the function of blood vessels in older adults.

“My early studies demonstrated how oxidative stress reduced nitric oxide, impairing blood flow in older adults and leading to conditions like peripheral arterial disease,” she said.

“My recent studies showed how healthy sources of nitrate, such as beetroot juice or a big green leafy salad, increased nitric oxide, improving blood flow and vascular function in older adults.”

The Accredited Exercise Physiologist said she was honoured to receive the recognition.

“It is very motivating. I feel encouraged to continue to do research that informs our clinical practice,” she said.

She acknowledged the guidance of her USC supervisor, Associate Professor Chris Askew from the VasoActive research group, and the participation of her volunteers between 60 and 75 years of age.

The ESSA judges said: “This is a very comprehensive thesis, incorporating a series of studies ranging from exploration of mechanisms which provide noteworthy and novel insights into the pathophysiology of peripheral artery disease.

“The candidate has a clear grasp of the weight of her findings and provides real-world value by translating these into meaningful recommendations.”

Dr Walker’s teaching at USC focuses on exercise for chronic disease management, occupational rehabilitation, and evidence-based professional practice.

 
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