Exercise is Medicine: An Interview with Lucas Carr

Portrait of Lucas Carr on an indoor track.
Lucas Carr is an associate professor of health and human physiology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also serves as director of the Behavioral Medicine Lab, co-director of the Community Outreach Lab, and a member of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative.
We talked to Dr. Carr about his role as chair of Exercise is Medicine at the University of Iowa and the myriad benefits of physical activity.

liveWELL: Can you tell us a little bit about the initiative of Exercise is Medicine and why it is important to the UI community?

Dr. Carr: Exercise is Medicine is a global health initiative that strives to raise awareness about the health benefits of physical activity and to integrate physical activity into our health care system. A primary goal of this initiative is for health care providers to ask all patients about their physical activity (just as they do for other vitals like heart rate and blood pressure) and then either provide patients with an exercise prescription or refer them to exercise professional in the community.

Getting people active has many benefits, but especially during winter exercise is a great way to boost one’s mood. What are your observations on the impact of exercise and mood?

Physical activity is associated with improved mood states such as pleasantness and calmness, and decreases in negative mood states like anger and depression. Recent studies have actually found that single bouts of exercise result in improved mood states that last several hours after the exercise is completed. There are studies that show exercise increases the production of mood related neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain these associations. My personal observations are consistent with these studies. I view physical activity as an important approach for maintaining a healthy mental state.

We couldn’t agree more! Dr. Carr, what is your favorite way to exercise during our Iowa winters?

I grew up downhill skiing which is something that I really love to do. When I first moved to Iowa, I struggled to find outdoor activities. I have recently picked up cross-country skiing, which I have come to really enjoy. The Ashton Cross Country course has wonderful trails. I have also picked up some indoor activities like indoor soccer.

As an exercise professional, what do you recommend individuals do to exercise?

The hedonic theory of motivation suggests that we tend to do what makes us feel better and avoid the things that make us feel bad. By this logic, the most important physical activity is the activity that you enjoy. For those trying to become more active, I recommend they either find an activity they enjoy or make being active more enjoyable by engaging with friends, listening to podcasts, or trying something new.

What are ways UI faculty and staff can engage more with Exercise is Medicine at the University of Iowa?

First, lead by example. If you are moving, you inspire others to move. If you need help, liveWELL has great options for University of Iowa faculty and staff.

However, if your patients or family members need support becoming more active, the Community Outreach Lab provides an option to support the community. The Community Outreach Lab serves as a place where local healthcare providers can refer patients for physical activity health coaching services, offered by our trained University of Iowa students. Patients and community members interested in receiving health coaching or learning more are welcome to contact the Community Outreach Lab directly. We can be reached by phone (319-467-0650) or email (hhp-col@uiowa.edu).

UI Faculty and Staff in 50 percent or greater regular positions can access a health coach via liveWELL. We often are asked about coaching for friends, neighbors, spouses, etc. who do not work at UI—the Community Outreach Lab may be a great opportunity!

This article originally appeared in the winter 2019 liveWELL newsletter.