“If you look at the human body from the outside it’s amazing, but if you understand it from the inside it’s absolutely mind-blowing.” Dr. Greg Wells
Dr, Greg Wells is a physiologist who specializes in health and performance in extreme conditions. His work is focused on elite athletes who are trying to achieve international medal performances, and on children with chronic diseases.
Dr. Wells was the host of the Genini Award winning Superbodies segments that aired on CTV during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Healthynomics would like to thank Dr. Wells for his time.
Healthynomics: Tell us a bit about the type of research you work on?
Dr. Greg Wells: I am a physiologist. Which means that I study how the human body works. I am particularly interested in how the human body works at the extremes – either high performance sport or chronic disease. So I end up doing research on testing and training techniques for athletes, and on using exercise to diagnose and treat chronic disease. Even though these might seem different, the tools and underlying physiology are basically the same and what we learn from one group usually helps the other.
HN: From current research, where do you see the biggest opportunities for enhanced athletic performances?
DGW: I think we are still learning a lot about how to best train the human body for specific sports. We have evolved our training techniques so much in the last 20 years, moving from a high volume training approach to one where we work to achieve higher intensities more often. I think there is tremendous potential to move forward in this area. Also I am not sure we really understand recovery and regeneration. There is conflicting research right now about the benefits of using recovery tools like post-exercise foods or cold tubs because it may be that although they improve performance in the short term (hours) they may compromise adaptation in the long term (weeks – months). So we still have lots to learn but that is exciting.
HN: Are there any particular sports that you feel have untapped potential for improving performances with further research?
DGW: I think we can do much better at helping young people train for sports in a way that complements their individual potential and growth and development status. On the other end of the spectrum I think we also can learn a great deal about how we can use sports and specific activities to combat ageing.
HN: Over the past few years, what have you learned about injury prevention in sport?
DGW: I am sot sure I have seen great changes in the way we prevent and manage injuries. I do think there is greater awareness among coaches and parents about how injuries can be prevented through teaching proper technique and allowing for enough rest when athletes get run down. That is paying great dividends in keeping young athletes healthy and happy while they are training. While not specifically related to “injuries” per se, there have been excellent advances in our understanding of how exercise and training relate to the immune system. For example we know that your immune system is suppressed for s short period of time right after a workout, but that overall the immune system of athletes is stronger than in people who don’t exercise.
HN: What is research showing us with regards to maintaining athletic performance levels as we get older?
DGW: There has been an explosion of new research on how exercise protects the body from the effects of ageing – both physically and mentally. Exercise seems to prevent our DNA from the effects of ageing, and this in turn helps keep the internal structures of the body healthy and functioning properly. There is also now a growing body of evidence that shows that exercise can be used to prevent and in some cases even treat cancer, although this research is in the very early stages. We are also learning a great deal about how exercise helps improve the function and health of the brain and how training can help prevent and treat mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.
HN: Tell us about any notable extreme athletic performances that have impressed you.
DGW: I have had the opportunity to train and work with some incredible athletes and I have witnessed some fantastic performances. Ray Zahab running the Sahara desert, Usain Bolt rewriting the record book in track, Michael Phelps becoming the best Olympian ever, young people sailing around the world, a blind person climbing Mt. Everest, the list goes on and on. What impresses me the most and what I find fascinating is watching humans push the boundaries of what is possible both mentally and physically. The great thing about that is any one of us can do that on a daily basis. If you go for a run and sprint up a hill that normally causes you to walk you have pushed the boundaries. That is what it is all about.