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New institute at UHCL researches nutrition and exercise to combat chronic disease

October 5, 2018 | UHCL Staff

New institute at UHCL researches nutrition and exercise to combat chronic diseas

There is a gap in the healthcare continuum in our community, says William Amonette, associate professor of exercise science at University of Houston-Clear Lake. For those struggling with chronic ailments – such as diabetes, stroke, heart diseases or obesity – insurance benefits offer limited coverage, if any at all. That is where the newly opened Exercise and Nutritional Health Institute fits in the healthcare continuum. It is designed to ensure people whose rehabilitative needs outlast insurance benefits can continue receiving care, says Amonette, the institute’s executive director.

“If you are living with a chronic disease or disability that requires long-term intervention, many insurance companies will cover a certain number of physical therapy sessions, and then you’re on your own,” said Amonette. “The science of nutrition and exercise for people with chronic disease or who are aging has evolved significantly, and at ENHI, faculty, medical doctors and other allied healthcare professionals are training future exercise scientists and practitioners to help this growing population in our community to regain their strength and improve their health and quality of life.”

ENHI will originally offer two programs to members of the community: Muscle Matters and the Metabolic Health Program. “Muscle Matters targets our over-40 population because that’s when skeletal muscle mass starts to steadily decline, which can result in serious impairments and loss of independence later in life,” Amonette said. “Appropriate exercise and nutritional countermeasures can mitigate these losses and help restore independence and quality of life.”

Muscle Matters is a monitored resistance, metabolic conditioning exercise and nutritional program designed to decrease or reverse the muscle strength losses that result from aging. “We monitor progress and study novel interventions to help people stay on track toward regaining or maintaining their strength and health,” said Amonette.

Dr. John Cottingham is one of two locally-based physicians who has taken a leadership role in the ENHI. Cottingham specializes in family medicine with a practice in Webster and is a research professor and scientist at ENHI. “All humans are by nature athletes, and it is important that we approach our nutrition and train our bodies accordingly,” he said. “By engaging in exercise that is intense enough to cause a physiological response, we are increasing the odds of having a more functional life and avoiding many chronic diseases that start early and become apparent after the age of 40. Because humans are living longer, to say you’re 70 years old and you can’t participate in activities that you enjoy is not reasonable.”

Cottingham said that ENHI aims to positively affect the community by helping people understand that their age is not an obstacle to improving their health. “The services people can get at ENHI are varied and help beyond nutrition and exercise. We’re helping people improve muscle mass, strength, balance, endurance and agility and our recommendations are founded in sound scientific evidence,” he said.

The Metabolic Health Program helps address the problem of overweight and obesity in our community. “Some metabolic consequences of obesity are a systemic inflammation, likelihood of diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, some cancers, strokes and dementia,” Amonette said. “These diseases reduce the quality of life of millions, and places a huge strain on our public health system. The Metabolic Health Program is a combined resistance, metabolic conditioning and nutritional program designed to decrease fat weight and improve insulin sensitivity.”

Dr. Nadir Ali, a cardiologist based primarily at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster is a physician leader, research professor and scientist in the institute. “Until now, the way doctors have been treating these diseases is by figuring out which pill to give patients,” he said. “We have to change this paradigm. The right way to health is through a lifestyle approach that includes fasting, exercise and proper nutrition. Health is not just about weight loss.”

Ali said that ENHI’s goal is not to conduct research on only young, healthy people. “It’s a seminal program,” he said. “The objective is to offer a ray of hope to those who are older and struggling with their weight, diabetes or with high blood pressure or other cardiac diseases.

“Anyone can work with healthy, young athletes. This is about taking the knowledge we have and applying it to people suffering from a chronic disease and either curing it or controlling it. The protocols used for athletes can be modified and will work for people in this population.”

UH-Clear Lake’s future exercise scientists work with clients alongside professors and other health professionals in one of three state-of-the-art laboratories targeting motor control, exercise physiology and biomechanics. The Institute, housed in UHCL’s new 83,000-square-foot Recreation and Wellness Center, also has a general exercise space including top-of-the-line strength and cardiovascular training equipment that will be utilized by the ENHI. Although the official opening of ENHI is Nov. 1, attendees of the institute’s inaugural event, Low Carb Houston Conference Oct. 25-27, will get a sneak peek of what to expect. During the conference, medical doctors, scientists, registered dieticians, and investigative journalists from five countries will be on hand to discuss the best ways to improve health through proper nutrition.

“Exercise and nutrition are the two biggest behavior changes we can make to improve our health,” Amonette said. “The techniques that work to help athletes stay in top physical condition can profoundly benefit those with chronic diseases. There’s such a need for people in our community to find a place that can empower them to take control of their health and in return they become part of the narrative of science that I believe will change the face of healthcare in the future.” For more information about UHCL’s exercise and health sciences program, visit

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