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Preventing and Treating Diseases with Evidence-based Exercise Therapy


Unit Name:
Molecular Sportology
Unit representative:
Professor Junichi Shoda, Faculty of Medicine

Unit members:
17 (14 faculty members, 1 postdoctoral fellow, 2 from other organizations)

Key words:
obesity, lifestyle-related diseases, animal models, exercise, molecular biology



In Japan, the incidence of obesity is increasing due to excessive food consumption and insufficient physical activity. The BMI*1 now exceeds 25 in approximately 30% of the total population. As obesity leads to various lifestyle-related diseases, it is important to adopt diet and exercise therapy approaches to prevent obesity and improve the health status. Focusing on exercise therapy, this research unit aims to demonstrate its usefulness by analyzing data from a medical viewpoint, and prevent and treat obesity and lifestyle-related diseases.

“Sportology” as a New Field of Study Combining Athletics and Medicine

While diet therapy for lifestyle-related diseases has been promoted, evidence-based exercise therapy for such a purpose has not yet been fully established. The term “sportology” refers to a new study area combining athletics and medicine to develop evidence-based exercise therapy methods, in order to improve health by preventing and treating lifestyle-related diseases. We collect data through exercise therapy performed in the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences of University of Tsukuba, and analyze them using molecular approaches to clarify mechanisms by which fat and liver metabolism improves through exercise. Based on the results of such analysis, we design new exercise therapies, and examine the effects of new exercise programs.

Preventing Fatty Liver by Strengthening Skeletal Muscles

As a new exercise therapy approach for a type of fatty liver*2, NAFLD*3, we have adopted 2 training methods: 1) hybrid training focusing on a combination between spontaneous contraction and electrical stimulation (Figure 1); and 2) acceleration training by vibrating systemic muscles on a large plate. As these training methods are based on resistance (anaerobic) exercise to strengthen skeletal muscles, they do not markedly change the body weight; however, the amount of liver fat decreased in only 6 months after the initiation of training in NAFLD patients (Figure 2), alleviating liver dysfunction. It is easy even for patients with low back and knee problems to continuously perform these forms of training. Currently, we are also analyzing molecular mechanisms by which skeletal muscle training reduces the amount of liver fat.
We aim to establish evidence-based exercise therapy methods by accumulating the outcomes of these studies, and contribute to the prevention and treatment of lifestyle-related diseases in the future.

Figure 1: Hybrid Training for Lower-limb Muscles

Figure 1: Hybrid Training for Lower-limb Muscles

Figure 2 : Effects of Acceleration Training Values marked with a red circle represent the amount of fat in the liver, which markedly decreased in 6 months after the initiation of training.

Figure 2 : Effects of Acceleration Training
Values marked with a red circle represent the amount of fat in the liver, which markedly decreased in 6 months after the initiation of training.

*1: The BMI (body mass index) is an index representing the severity of obesity; calculation formula: body weight (kg) / height (m) × height (m); those with a BMI of 25 or over are considered “obese”.

*2: A condition with excess fat in the liver reportedly due to obesity or alcohol drinking.
*3: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Social contributions and achievements

● Creating high-level evidence for exercise therapy by analyzing research outcomes from a viewpoint that combines athletics and medicine

● Organizing a base for sport medicine as a next-generation study area to promote new education and research

● Providing people with information to develop an understanding of the effectiveness of exercise and importance of sport medicine through research groups and committees for the development of treatment guidelines, in addition to presentations at academic meetings and publication in scientific journals.

(Interviewed on September 30, 2013)

Research Administration/Management Office at U Tsukuba TEL 029-853-4434