Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre (CHERC)

The Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre initiates research in paediatric exercise science to enhance our understanding of exercise, physical activity and sport that determines health and well-being. We are interested in optimising exercise, physical activity, and sport across a range of different paediatric groups, including healthy school aged children, children with chronic diseases and talented young athletes.

In particular, our work has focused on developing innovative research programmes that are child-centred: all equipment and methodologies have been designed with children for the study of children.

The techniques pioneered have been widely adopted internationally and are providing new insights into the study of the exercising child. Data have challenged conventional understanding of young people's exercise responses and demonstrated that the exercising child responds very differently to the exercising adult and that there are clear sex differences in responses.

We also offer the first taught MSc programme in Paediatric Exercise and Health Sciences in the world, where our students are exposed to and learn from many of our research studies.

Current projects

Capabilities

Our Centre and laboratories

Clinicians and medical researchers are most welcome to visit our Centre and laboratories. We have extensive equipment/instrumentation including:

  • ergometers, metabolic carts
  • microvascular function laboratory
  • body composition suite
  • environmental chamber
  • DEXA scanner
  • access to the MRI/MRS centre (on St Luke’s Campus)

Data sets

We possess a large data base on:

  • aerobic (e.g. peak oxygen uptake, oxygen uptake kinetics) and anaerobic metabolism (e.g. in vivo measures of muscle energetic using 31P-magnetic resonance spectroscopy, indirect performance measures),
  • body fat measures,
  • strength,
  • lung function
  • and physical activity of healthy children.

We are always keen to extend our research and to work with clinicians and sick children.

Research themes

Bone health

Osteoporosis is a disease characterised by reduced bone mass and deterioration of bone microarchitecture, resulting in increased risk of fragility fractures. Bone mass acquisition during adolescence seems to be not only an important determinant of skeletal growth but also a key factor for reducing the risk of osteoporosis later in life. In this regard, a 10% increase in peak bone mass during adolescence might reduce the risk of fracture later in life by 50% and delay the onset of osteoporosis by 13 years. However, early prevention remains as one of the most prudent approaches to improve bone health.

Exercise is an effective approach for developing bone mass during puberty, but some sports may have a positive or negative impact on bone mass accrual. CHERC research is increasing our understanding of the contribution of different sports to bone mineralisation and metabolism.

Specialists: Dr Dimitris Vlachpoulos, Dr Alan Barker, Professor Craig Williams, Professor Karen Knapp, Dr Brad Metcalf

Cardiovascular health

Investigating the use of physical activity participation and exercise training in children with congenital heart defects. Most children with a surgically corrected heart defect have near normal exercise tolerance and could safely participate in competitive sport. Individuals with more complex structural defects may have significantly reduced exercise tolerance and functioning, but would still benefit from participating in physical activity in a recreational environment. However, evidence suggests that many children are underactive due to self-perceptions and parental anxiety.

Currently, we are engaged in a project funded by the Leeds-based charity Heart Research UK, with the main objective of developing a comprehensive set of advice and recommendations to enable children with a heart defect to safely engage in sports and other physical activities.

Specialists: Professor Craig Williams, Dr Guido Pieles, Dr Graham Stuart, Dr Dan Dorabantu, Dr Bert Bond, Lucy Gowing

Industry partners: Heart Research UK, Canon Medical Systems Ltd

Health of Young Athletes and Sports Performance

The health of young athletes has never been more important for researchers and sports science support staff to promote and understand the consequences of long-term training. Increased specialisation and training methods that mirror adult elite professional athletes can result in over use injuries, overtraining and drop out.

However, surprisingly little is still known about the training responses of young male and female junior athletes. Utilising over 15 years of experience working with national governing bodies such as British Cycling, British Gymnastics, Lawn Tennis Association and English Athletics, data generated from CHERC is helping shape the way forward for young athletes, coaches and parents.

Specialists: Professor Craig Williams, Dr Alan Barker, Dr Guido Pieles, Dr Graham Stuart, Dr Dimitris Vlachopoulos, Rob Mann, Dr Shilo Dormehl, Dr Adam Kelly, Dr Alfred Nimmerichter

Industry partners: Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, England Athletics, Exeter City Football Academy, Manchester United Football Club.

Vascular health

Although typically associated with adulthood, the origin of cardio-metabolic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes, starts in childhood. This means preventative strategies should start early in life. Physical activity is known to reduce a child’s cardio-metabolic risk, but very few children meet the current guidelines of performing 60 minutes per day of at least moderate intensity physical activity. This means, alternative exercise strategies, such as performing low volume high-intensity-interval exercise (HIIE) may be an attractive alternative to reduce cardio-metabolic risk in youth.

Other projects

  • Microvascular function, aerobic exercise and type 2 diabetics (publications in Diabetologia).
  • Exercise stress testing and prognosis in children with cystic fibrosis (publications in Pediatric Pulmonology, Journal of Cystic Fibrosis, International Journal of Pediatrics).
  • Visceral fat patterning in children (publications in Obesity Research and Acta Paediatrica).
  • Bone health and young adolescent athletes (publications in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and European Journal of Applied Physiology).
  • A longitudinal, collaborative research programme investigating cardiac function in healthy children and elite young adolescent athletes.
  • A three year investigation into non-functional overreaching/overtraining syndrome funded by the ESRC examining health and well-being of young adolescent runners.
  • Focusing on children’s physical and mental well-being during dinghy sailing, which is funded by the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation charity.
  • Several on-going projects investigating fundamental and basic science questions concerning muscle metabolism during exercise and exercise tolerance.
  • Examination of psychological, perceptual and physiological responses to high-intensity interval exercise in adolescents.

Find out about our masters programme which looks at the how physical activity and fitness can play in improving markers of health and well-being in young people.

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