10:01 AM

Health and Human Performance Institute reimagines vision, widens impact

The newly renamed Health and Human Performance Institute (HHPI) is increasing the scope of its research and community offerings at University of Houston-Clear Lake and beyond. Previously named the Exercise and Nutritional Health Institute, the interdisciplinary research center is already known for its programs designed to improve exercise and nutrition behaviors for people with chronic diseases and the Low Carb Houston Conference.

In its first full year of operation, the institute served more than 150 community members and provided 6800 prescribed and monitored exercise sessions. Now, with an even more comprehensive scope and expansion of its programs, Executive Director Bill Amonette says the Health and Human Performance Institute is poised for new growth, development and community impact.

"We are re-envisioning the mission and scope of the institute," Amonette said. "We would like to widen our impact in the communities we serve, and involve expertise of faculty from across all our colleges, expand our current programs and create unique programs that serve our diverse community while helping our students gain marketable skills."

He explained that the new HHPI will have five divisions with specific research focus areas. "Exercise and nutritional health has become its own separate division and we are adding a high-performance division focused on testing and research in sport athletes and tactical athletes such as firefighters, police and EMS personnel," he said. "We have added a technology development and innovation division, in which we will be partnering with other engineers across the campus and in the community."

The team, he continued, is committed to developing concepts and building 21st century tools that enhance the exercise experience, as well as transitional devices that help people bridge the gap between disability and performance.

The program expansion also includes a data analytics division, which will enable secondary data analysis by faculty, and a community outreach and education division, which will continue to host the Low Carb Houston Conference and create additional smaller educational experiences and workshops for coaches.

"One of our most exciting new programs and lines of research will focus on concussion, mild traumatic brain injury and neurorehabilitation." he said. "Our team is uniquely suited to develop novel rehabilitation tools to help people recover from head injuries in sports and provide the opportunity to educate the community on concussions and head injuries."

The HHPI, said Amonette, encompasses all the needs of the human athlete. "Whether that person is an 80-year-old or a professional athlete, we're here to provide services for everyone as well as create experiential learning opportunities for students in multiple programs across the campus," he said.

Olympia Watts, who will receive her Bachelor of Science in Fitness and Human Performance in December 2020, has been working as an exercise physiologist in the institute since this summer.

"Due to the pandemic, I am now implementing daily Zoom fitness classes for individuals in our current programs who are not comfortable coming to the gym," she said. "We are imaginative, using water bottles or canned goods for weights, and implement yoga, cardio and even dance. No matter what someone's physical limitations may be, we modify the program so they can participate and benefit from the class."

As a student researcher, Watts said it's her goal to get as much experience as she can before starting her professional career. "I am gaining valuable experience here in this institute, because I have wonderful mentors who are my professors," she said. "They give me so much scientific and academic knowledge, share their own experience, and I'm able to apply it to our members here. When I go into my profession and come across unique cases, I'll already have experienced it in HHPI."

The new version of HHPI she explained, can address anyone needing exercise instruction, state-of-the-art testing, and knowledge and evidence-based practices to support anyone at any age and performance level regardless of disability. "We can help you take charge of your own health and become champions of your own life, improving your quality of life," she said.

After graduating, Watts plans to go directly into UHCL's Master of Science in Exercise and Health Science program. "My career goal is to make the HHPI grow so much that I'm able to stay here permanently," she said. "I want to be a bigger part of the institute. There is no greater reward than to hear a member say they're feeling better and stronger. I want to give back as much as I can here, because this university has given me so much."

Amonette believes the greatest reward in their work is not just the development of programs. "The real reward is in the relationships we are building," said. "It is such an honor to get to know and help our members, to work with such a wonderful faculty and student team members at UHCL, and see students such as Olympia Watts thrive, take initiative and become legitimate leaders."

Read more about the new Health and Human Performance Institute online.