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Health & Exercise - a Life Course Perspective (HELP)

Feets telling us that older people are walking.

A huge challenge in global health is a population getting older, more sedate and obese. Individual life styles may cause health problems but can also be part of interventions to improve health.


Research unit HELP has as its overall aim to study health in a life course perspective by taking into account the intertwining of genetic, psycho-social and environmental dimensions in a person’s health and well-being. Presently the research unit consists of two groups.

1) Nature, Nurture and Non-communicable diseases

There is a lot of evidence that physical inactivity and a poor diet is the root to a large variety of health conditions, and that a healthy diet and increased physical activity can prevent and ameliorate the effects of a host of disease including cardiovascular, diabetes type II, some cancers and several musculoskeletal diseases. However, recent studies show that humans are highly heterogeneous in response to various interventions. For example, some people get very fit from doing aerobic workouts while other seemingly do not benefit at all. Part of the answer may depend on the state of specific genes or epigenetic mechanisms. Researchers at USN working in the fields of physiology (exercise, diet) and genetics have now joined forces. The research focus is physiological intervention in combination with genetic and epigenetic studies and implications for various non-communicable diseases (NCD`S).

2) Promoting Healthy Life Styles

In striving to be both physically and mentally well, a person negotiates daily work or school with leisure, and social adaptation with individualized growth. The person seeks coherence between many aspects of daily life, such as the fitness of his or her body, outdoor activity, work and family life, relations with significant others, social networks, and societal demands. In other words, the person seeks a coherent life style that promotes physical and mental health and well-being. The search for such a life style is a challenging, ongoing process; the relative impact and values of life’s many dimensions change during a person’s life course and are often inherently contradictory. Many persons require help to find, establish and uphold healthy life styles. The research focus is how to assist people in this quest – whether by providing research-based information, education, or professional health care.

Academic disciplines involved

  • Genetics; epigenetics
  • Exercise physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Life course developmental psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Mental health work
  • Physical education
  • Pedagogy

Collaboration partners

Among the national collaborators are Telemark county, Telemark hospital, Vestfold Hospital, Senter for sykelig overvekt at Helse Sør-Øst, Klinikk for fysikalsk medisin og rehabilitering at Sykehuset Hospital, Modum Bad psychiatric center, DNT, Exercise referral centrals in Telemark and Buskerud, Telemarksforskning, Mental Helse, Erfaringskompetanse.no (Skien), GREP (Porsgrunn), Porsgrunn Vidergående skole, Oslo and Akerhus University College, University of Agder, NTNU and Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.

International collaboration with: Loughborough University, Trinity St Davids University (UK), University of Southern Denmark, University of Copenhagen (DK), University of Utah, Ramapo College (USA), and the International Network in Sport and Health Sciences (INSHS). Collaboration with University of Dayton (USA) is under establishment.

Ongoing research projects:

Exercise and diabetes type II

  • Physiological effects after 12 weeks of high intensity aerobic exercise among adults with diabetes type 2.
  • Two years after participating in training intervention; Aerobic capacity and HbA1C among adults with diabetes type 2
  • Exercise and motivational factors among adults with diabetes type 2
  • Just a convenient possibility or a possible cause? The effect of participation in organised sport as youth on physical activity in adulthood

Exercise and obesity

  • The effect of high intensity aerobic interval training vs moderate training in severe obese.
  • The effect of exercise and genes on energy expenditure, appetite and quality of life in morbidly obese patients

Exercise and fat oxidation

  • Fat oxidation changes after high intensity aerobic interval training among adults.

Exercise genomics

  • Baseline studies of exercise genetics

Exercise and aging

  • Ageing “The fountain of youth”

Exercise and eating disorders

STRONG - strength training and eating disorders

  • Physical activity in school children
  • Physical activity in school: Teaching styles and environmental effects on physical activity in 10 and 12 years old school children
  • Environmental correlates to physical activity in children and adolescents
  • Physical activity and physical fitness in school children – a joint cross-sectional study in Hungary, Lithuania and Norway
  • Kosthold, fysisk aktivitet, psykisk helse og vektutvikling blant barn og ungdom i Telemark

Sport, peace, development and health

  • Collaboration with Red Cross on the use and effects of sport in conflict and developing areas.

Mental Health and Health Psychology

  • Life style changes in psychiatric treatment
  • Good mental health and mental complexity
  • Belonging and good mental health at the workplace
  • Good mental health and family relationships
  • Successful retirement and mental complexity
  • Parental guidance and adult development
  • Venn1 og mental health promotion among adolescents