Kathy Gunter is an Assistant Professor in OSU Extension's Family and Community Development Program and the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences. Dr. Gunter’s work focuses on the effects of physical activity on the prevention and management of chronic conditions across the lifespan. Her research has demonstrated the benefits of physical activity on bone health in children and fracture risk in the elderly.
Dr. Gunter’s work spans the gap between research and practice. She has taught exercise classes to older adults in the community and, in the OSU Bone Research Laboratory, studied the effects of these targeted exercise programs across the lifespan. Convinced that effective, evidence-based practices need to be more widely available, she is working with Linn Benton Community College faculty and staff to offer workshops to train fitness instructors and community stakeholders to deliver Better Bones and Balance, an exercise program developed at OSU to reduce the risk of falls and fractures among older adults. "Not every community has a cadre of people who can come to OSU for training and take this back to their communities," says Gunter. "I believe it's our responsibility to create a toolkit that would allow communities, YMCAs or senior centers to have their personnel trained. Too often scientists publish the paper and move on. Nobody benefits if the science is not translated and packaged for practitioners who work daily with the populations we study.”
In addition to instructor training, Kathy is trying to reach individuals in their homes through a Web site. She is also working with Ron Metoyer, an Associate Professor in computer science engineering at OSU, on technology to create a 3D virtual personal trainer for people at risk of fall injuries. The intent is to create a tool that would allow physicians to prescribe and communicate exercise programs using 3D animated agents. Ideally, patients would interact with the virtual trainer while exercising and physicians could monitor patients’ fall incidence and response to exercise. They have received funding for a pilot project from OSU's Center for Healthy Aging Research and have applied for a larger grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Gunter is also advising a graduate research project targeting more than 100 current Better Bones and Balance participants. They are measuring participants' strength, balance, bone density, nutrition, and physical activity behaviors. The goal is to see if there is a "dose-response" relationship, if benefits accrue the longer one participates in the program. Findings will inform the development of the instructor training materials and Gunter hopes to conduct a randomized controlled trial of the tool-kit’s effectiveness by partnering with Extension faculty throughout the state.