Features Kinesiology Research

Inside the mind of researcher Sean Newsom

“Even though high cardiorespiratory fitness achieved through regular exercise remains the goal, people need to know that exercise by itself – even one bout – is metabolically beneficial.”

Assistant Professor Sean Newsom joined the College of Public Health and Human Sciences in summer 2015. Before coming to OSU, Sean served as a postdoctoral fellow at University of Colorado’s School of Medicine. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in Health and Exercise Science from Colorado State University and a PhD in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan.

What made you decide to get into this field of study? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path?

“I enjoy the constant mental challenge associated with evaluating information, integrating ideas and designing experiments to test a new idea. I also have a passion for the concept of health as a lifestyle. These two things have undoubtedly shaped my career. Along the way, I have been fortunate to encounter wonderful educators who helped fuel my interests. I have also had excellent mentors who have helped me get to where I am now and continue to help me make progress.”

What does your current research entail?

“I am fortunate to co-direct the Translational Metabolism Research Laboratory with my colleague, Matt Robinson. Together, we investigate the molecular and cellular basis of insulin resistance. This is a metabolic concern common to overweight and obese individuals, where the cells of the body are not particularly responsive to insulin – the hormone your body releases after a meal to help lower blood sugar. We study insulin’s ability to regulate metabolism in muscle cells and identify impairments in these processes. We also investigate the physical activity’s ability – even a single session of exercise – to improve insulin regulation of muscle cell metabolism. This research has important implications for overweight and obese individuals, and the risk for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.”

What sparked your interest in this topic?

“Insulin resistance is a key contributing factor to many chronic diseases and even some forms of cancer. The relatively high rate of overweight and obese individuals in many parts of the world demonstrates the need for effective treatments to combat insulin resistance. Knowing that we already have fairly effective methods to enhance insulin sensitivity, including physical activity and weight loss, is encouraging. I am keenly interested in using lifestyle modification as a research tool to identify new therapeutic targets for the treatment of insulin resistance. We can also use this information to optimize lifestyle intervention strategies.”

How does you work make a difference?

“I am hopeful that our work translates into effective treatments for insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. For example, I previously demonstrated that even a single session of moderate intensity exercise is sufficient to greatly improve insulin sensitivity in otherwise sedentary, obese adults. This finding is important because it can be used to reframe exercise prescriptions aimed at improving metabolic health. Even though high cardiorespiratory fitness achieved through regular exercise remains the goal, people need to know that exercise by itself – even one bout – is metabolically beneficial.”

What’s next for you? 

“We are currently recruiting participants for an ongoing metabolic research study. We are testing new ideas regarding the cause of insulin resistance, and testing the ability of exercise to reverse these novel impairments. These studies could form the basis of new treatment interventions for insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. I encourage people to visit our laboratory website to learn more about our research and the opportunity to participate in this study.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Two ideas come to mind. The first comes from my dad, who instilled in me that I should always strive to do things right the first time. The idea of wasting effort by doing something poorly, particularly if you will ultimately have to make up for your own shortcomings, is often more time consuming than simply taking the time to do the job right the first time. Effort pays dividends in many ways.

The second is that in order to succeed you must be willing to fail. Many people, myself included, struggle with the idea of failing or falling short of our goals. However, most of my greatest rewards in life – personal and professional – have come from situations where I pressed onward despite failure being a distinct possibility. We are rarely defined by failures.”

What advice would you give to current students and recent alums?

“I would encourage them to revisit the advice that has stayed with me – put in the effort and be willing to fail. Know that most careers and great job opportunities will require planning, persistence and patience. Plan for the career or job you are seeking. Learn what it will take to get that job, then take the steps to make it happen. Know that you are unlikely to get there overnight, so be patient. I would also encourage them to seek out career-specific mentors, to gain insight into how those individuals earned their career/job.”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“I have far too many hobbies, most of which involve being outdoors. I enjoy trail running, mountain biking and golf. I am a firm believer that most things pair well with sunshine, including coffee, wine, beer, my dogs and my much better half, Lauren.”