Muscle Health Awareness Day event expands its scope

Man's back muscle and body structure. Human body view from behind isolated on white background.

The annual Muscle Health Awareness Day (MHAD) event hosted at York University on Friday, May 17, looks to advance its research reputation in the field with an emphasis on introducing attending researchers to a lived experience session.

Sponsored by York’s Muscle Health Research Centre (funded by the Faculty of Health), the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, each year MHAD brings together doctors, scientists and trainees from across Canada and the United States. It aims to help advance understanding of the physiology and adaptation of muscles, vasculature and the heart during exercise and aging.

Among the nine speakers and 60 trainee presentations that will be featured at this year’s 15th annual event, something new will be introduced: a special lived experience session.

In recent years, among pre-clinical and clinical researchers in the field, there has been a growing movement to connect directly with individuals struggling with muscle-related health issues to better inform research.

“How can we truly understand what we’re studying if we don’t have any experience with that situation?” says Professor Christopher Perry, director of the Muscle Health Research Centre (MHRC). “What options are remaining? To listen to people who have it.”

Perry has experienced this first-hand at other conferences where, during sessions on particular diseases or conditions, people who were affected by them were involved in the discussion – putting a human face to what attendees spend their time researching. He still remembers the impact that can have. “The first thing I felt was not knowledge. The first thing I felt was inspiration,” he says. “‘This is why we’re doing and this,’” he thought.

He has found, too, that when listening to lived experiences, sometimes those who are affected by a condition will bring up feelings, pain or sensations that researchers hadn’t thought to ask about or were aware of through literature. That, in turn, can lead to new understanding and avenues for research.

When Perry became director of the MHRC, he pushed for the MHAD event to not only follow suit but demonstrate innovation – it is among the first conferences with pre-clinical researchers in attendance to include a lived experience session.

The MHAD event has invited Julia Creet, a filmmaker and English professor in the Department of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who will share her experiences as a mature athlete and the process of how she maintains – even improves – her fitness. In her discussion she will cover how incorporating strength training becomes more important to build muscle, how it may take longer to warm up and recover, and how people can remain highly competitive even as they age. To help accentuate the talk, Creet aims to also share a five-minute documentary about her experience as a cyclist.

The session will also include an athletic therapist providing a professional perspective on the challenges faced by aging athletes.

The organizers’ hope is that the session will help provide information to many researchers focusing on aging, while also being relevant to anyone studying how aging affects fitness in all populations.

In its aim to underscore the impact attending researchers can have – especially when considering the lived experiences of those they study – the MHAD event will also feature a session with the CEO of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, who will share how scientific discovery in exercise physiology can be translated into professional practice by front-line certified exercise physiologists.

The intent is for scientists and trainees attending MHAD to see how their roles as researchers can impact society, and how their research efforts can support a continuum of knowledge generation and dissemination towards health solutions for society.

For more information, to register and to submit abstracts or posters for consideration, visit the Muscle Health Awareness Day web page.