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Olympian helps launch exercise-as-medicine initiative

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the most decorated woman athlete in Olympic track-and-field history
UC Irvine Health
Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee helps UC Irvine's Pediatric Exercise & Genomics Research Center launch its Exercise-as-Medicine Initiative.

Exercise: 'It's about winning in life'

Irvine, Calif., May 12, 2016 — Six-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee told more than 200 pediatricians, family physicians, medical students and children’s health researchers that exercise was her key to living.

"Exercise has given me a lifeline — a lifeline to continue exercising beyond my years of competing," the retired track-and-field champion said at a celebration for “Exercise Is Medicine” month at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering.

The celebratory event, sponsored by the UC Irvine Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center (PERC), was held to kick off an initiative aimed at training primary care professionals to prescribe exercise to children and to track health improvements related to their physical activity — both in the short-term and over a lifetime.

The motivational speaker and founder of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation described how she had learned to manage severe asthma while competing on the world stage, as well as the influence asthma and exercise have on her life today.

"It’s not about winning gold medals; it’s about winning in life," Joyner-Kersee told the assembled physicians and scientists. "That’s what I’m faced with on a daily basis."

PERC's exercise-as-medicine initiative is intended to reshape how the next generation of children’s health professionals prescribes then monitors physical activity beginning in early childhood. PERC is working with global leaders in exercise medicine, clinical care, research and education to develop a curriculum for teaching others how to evaluate the effectiveness of specific, individualized physical activities for children.

The program’s development is supported by a $1.75-million gift from the Sunrider Corporation, which was inspired by the company's vice president of business development, Dr. Reuben K. Chen, a UC Irvine School of Medicine alumnus.

Pediatrician Dan Cooper, MD, associate vice chancellor for Clinical and Translational Science for UC Irvine's College of Health Sciences, recognized Chen, his family and Sunrider at the gathering for what their gift is making possible.

"It is a gift of health to countless numbers of children here in our region and throughout the world," said Cooper, who founded PERC.

"It is that kind of proverbial gift that echoes and reverberates for years to come because it will enable coming generations of child healthcare professionals to set new standards in how we harness the biological benefit of exercise to improve the lives of children, all children — those who are healthy and those who suffer from chronic disease or disability."

UC Irvine physicians pose with Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee at event to promote exercise for children's health.

From left to right, Dan M. Cooper, MD, associate vice chancellor for Clinical and Translational Science; Sunrider International Vice President Reuben K. Chen, MD; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the most decorated woman athlete in Olympic track-and-field history; Michael J. Stamos, MD, interim dean, UC Irvine School of Medicine, and Shlomit Aizik-Radom, PhD, executive director of PERC.