(April 20, 2012) — A strong personal interest in athletics prompted Dr. Alisa McArthur to explore the impact of exercise on the aging process.
The St. Mary’s University psychology professor and former varsity athlete is currently researching the role of exercise in maintaining mental abilities as we grow older.
“A lot of research shows that exercise is not only good for our physical health, it is also beneficial for our mental health and cognitive functioning,” Dr. McArthur said.
“Exercise may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but it is unclear how much exercise and what types of exercise make a difference. Does exercise have its biggest impact on memory, speed of processing or attention?”
With the help of a St. Mary’s University research grant, Dr. McArthur has interviewed 30 participants over the age of 60 and hopes to interview 30 more this spring and summer as her research continues.
In her interviews, she is also attempting to assess the psychological well-being of her volunteers, which she says is another indication of “successful aging.”
“The measures I am using relate to how much control the subjects feel they have over their lives and how they perceive their level of autonomy.”
One of her biggest joys associated with this project has been meeting those who have agreed to share details of their lives for the sake of her research. Dr. McArthur says she is also looking forward to crunching the numbers.
“I’m a numbers person and I get really excited about seeing the results,” she said. Dr. McArthur shares her excitement for statistics with her students as they complete their own research projects on the way to achieving their Bachelor’s degrees in psychology.
Since joining St. Mary’s in 1999, she has witnessed growing interest in the St. Mary’s psychology program. Her first psychology class consisted of seven students; today she is marking 40 papers in her PSYC 353: Psychology of Aging course. In response to student demand, Dr. McArthur and her colleagues have developed a new four-year Bachelor’s degree in psychology for St. Mary’s, which is currently awaiting government approval.
Dr. McArthur studied and played varsity soccer at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Calgary. She achieved her PhD in Psychology from the U of C, focusing her doctoral studies on cognitive aging. Dr. McArthur is the Canadian Psychology Association’s section chair for brain and cognitive sciences and the main reviewer of research papers submitted to the section for the association’s annual meeting and conference.
Since becoming a teacher, she has also turned her research attention to teaching and pedagogy. Teaching, for her, is another source of joy.
“I love getting to know my students and seeing them graduate,” she said. “At St. Mary’s, you really have a chance to get to know the students as individuals, and knowing that you’ve helped them along the way, you feel very proud.”