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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New equipment at NMSU gives students tools to measure health

Textbooks and lectures aren't the only tools that make student learning possible. This is the philosophy behind the recent acquisition of several pieces of equipment for New Mexico State University's Human Performance Laboratory.

A student lies face up on the DEXA while a professor stands and operates the scanner.
NMSU professor Joseph Berning, left, and student Jennifer Agnew demonstrate how to operate a dual-emission X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scanner in the Human Performance Laboratory. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The lab is part of NMSU's Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation. It includes an exercise stress test system that allows students to investigate electrocardiograms, a mobile breath-by-breath metabolic analysis system that measures metabolic and lung function and a dual-emission X-ray absorptiometry or DEXA scanner that measures bone density and body composition.

"This is the same equipment used in hospitals and Olympic training centers," said Joseph Berning, professor of exercise physiology at NMSU. "Having all this equipment in one space and available to undergraduate students is rare and ensures our students are much better prepared for professional practice and graduate programs."

The equipment in the lab has distinctive features that help students enhance their learning experience. The stress test system includes a simulator that can replicate a variety of cardiac arrhythmias, allowing students the opportunity to learn the difference between normal and abnormal readings.

The metabolic analysis system consists of a mask, a transmitter and receiver unit. The unit can be strapped to the body in order to evaluate gas exchange, which then determines how much energy is used under various physical conditions like walking or running. The mobile system also has GPS capability so the wearer can be tracked and performance can be tied to specific locations and various altitudes.

The DEXA scanner is a non-invasive test that emits less than 5 millirems of radiation - a low dose similar to what one is exposed to on a an airplane flight across the United States. The entire body can be scanned in four to five minutes and the results give students real-life examples of the physical effects of health problems like osteoporosis and obesity.

"Being able to do this kind of testing is the centerpiece of what exercise physiologists do," said Robert Wood, professor and academic head of NMSU's Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation. Wood plans to use the devices in classes he will teach every semester.

In addition to providing undergraduate students with hands-on access to the type of equipment used in medical centers around the country, the equipment will serve other critical purposes as well.

"We have the foundation for a graduate program that could help us expand our research ventures and enhance student education," Berning said. "This could help us train more students in the allied health and medical professions and make our impact on the community even more significant."