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Exercise is Medicine

An Inside Look at the Honors EXCEL project of Emma Blair

By Stephanie Golden, Honors Student Ambassador
Emma Blair headshot

Emma Blair is a junior Honors student from Wheeling, West Virginia. She is majoring in exercise physiology and minoring in psychology.

“I knew coming in from high school that I wanted to do medicine, but I didn’t know what kind. Exercise physiology was really appealing because it’s a major that let’s you go into any branch of the medical field,” Emma said.

During her freshman year, Emma took a developmental psychology class. She loved it, which inspired her decision to declare a psychology minor.

“I think it’s really cool to have a major about the anatomy and physiology of the body and then have a minor that goes full circle with the mind,” Emma said.

Representing Her University

Emma stays involved on campus. She is a Presidential Student Ambassador, an Honors College Ambassador, and an ambassador for the School of Medicine. Presidential Student Ambassadors (PSAs) are student leaders who exemplify Mountaineer values, coming from diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines.

Freshmen and sophomore students are nominated to apply to become PSAs, and only ten are selected each semester. Emma was in the first cohort of PSAs. She has developed her writing and communication skills by giving presentations across the university at alumni and admissions events, as well as participating in community outreach.

“It gave me a feeling that I could actually make a change on campus,” she said.

Emma’s Honors EXCEL Project

As an Honors EXCEL student, Emma is working on her project titled “Exercise is Medicine.” The project aims to reduce the frequency of prescribing medications by instituting an exercise prescription system. Emma will be working with patients at the WVU Medicine Internal Medicine clinic to develop personalized exercise programs according to each patient’s medical conditions and needs. She will then research the rate of compliance for patients and their exercise programs.

Emma said a good example of a situation where patients may be overprescribed medications is high blood pressure. Patients are frequently put on medication immediately after the discovery of their high blood pressure. Rather than trying to wean them off of the medicine, the patients will often use the medicine for prolonged periods of time.

“I truly think that they could get off of that medication completely or at least reduce the dosage, which would still be great.”

According to Emma, a lot of cardiovascular-related health problems can be eased with exercise.

When asked what sparked her interest in this particular topic, we learned that Emma has been playing soccer since she was five years old, and she has always been interested in sports. This topic also neatly ties together her major and minor because, as Emma notes, exercise provides people with both mental and physical benefits.

“We all know that you should exercise, but it’s not as known how clinically it can improve your vitals and life expectancy,” Emma said. She is excited to work on this project to help close that information gap.

Personalized Programs for Individual Patients

Designing totally unique programs for each individual patient sounds like a daunting task. Thankfully Emma’s project is being conducted under the guidance of the Exercise is Medicine organization that was brought to WVU’s campus last fall. They provide guidelines for making plans for different generalized patient circumstances. She will be able to use these guidelines to tailor a plan to each patient’s personal needs, taking into account their personal limits.

“I’ll be able to use the generic templates that the organization has provided for me and then tweak them based on each patient’s specific needs. I do like the idea of using the generic ones on vague patient populations because I’m intrigued to see how minor tweaks will effect patient progress,” she said.

Emma’s Honors EXCEL mentor is David Donley, an associate professor in the exercise physiology department. He is also the head faculty member for WVU’s branch of Exercise is Medicine.

Outside of Class

Emma Blair sits on top of the Empire State Building in New York City.

Emma Blair on top of the Empire State Building in New York City.

Emma also researches under Kristin Grogg, PhD candidate in the Clinical and Translational Science Doctoral Program at WVU. Grogg is conducting research similar to Emma’s Honors EXCEL project, except her research focus is more systemic, while Emma plans on applying similar techniques in the clinic. Emma is assisting Grogg by coding hundreds of articles that Grogg has pulled on previously conducted studies where clinicians were trained on or encouraged to prescribe exercise to their patient population. The two of them are also examining clinic flow and patient chart data, which shows that many patients are not being asked about physical activity during annual wellness visits. This research experience has been very beneficial to Emma because it has helped her build a database of articles she can reference for her project and identify areas in need of further research.

Emma also works as a clinical associate at Ruby Memorial Hospital.

“It’s a great job. I want to be a physician’s assistant, so it’s an excellent job to get direct, hands-on patient care. It’s really cool to get that medical experience—to get the feel of how the hospital operates and to get that patient care while still pursuing an undergraduate degree,” Emma said. “Usually you would need at least a bachelor’s degree.”

Emma Blair jumping in front of a building in Quebec.

Emma Blair in Quebec City, Canada.

In her spare time, Emma enjoys reading and traveling.

Last spring break she had the opportunity to travel to Honduras with the WVU Global Medical and Dental Brigades.

Over the summer she then spent two weeks in Quebec, Canada. The WVU study abroad program had a partnership with Quebec’s Laval University. In the mornings, WVU students had a class on the political, cultural, and foreign relations between Canada and the United States. During the afternoons the students would get to go on excursions and explore the city. 

Emma Blair in the Quartier du Petit Champlain in Quebec City, Canada.

Emma Blair in the Quartier du Petit Champlain in Quebec City, Canada.

Applying to the Honors EXCEL Program

Emma is just one of many students currently involved in the Honors EXCEL program. You can be too! Applications are open through April 1. Learn more here