April 25, 2023 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Two things happened when Katie Hirsch, one of exercise science’s newest faculty members, moved from her native Kansas to neighboring Missouri to attend Truman State University. Both would shape her career.
“I got interested in exercise science as a way to maximize my performance and in nutrition as a way to promote recovery,” says Hirsch, who ran both cross country and track during her bachelor’s program. “I also got really involved in undergraduate research, working on different projects and diving into specific research questions.”
These studies examined topics such as body composition within the female cross-country team, bone density in women and the effects of chocolate milk on recovery. They were also the seeds that would grow into Hirsch’s career studying the impacts of exercise and nutrition on women’s health.
After connecting with a Truman alumna conducting research in these areas at the University of North Carolina, Hirsch completed her master’s (exercise physiology) and doctoral (human movement science) degrees in Chapel Hill. As a research assistant in the Applied Physiology Lab, she dug deep into how exercise and nutrition support body composition, metabolism, performance and overall health. Her two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity (University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences) refined her interests in muscular health and particularly its importance for aging women.
“I was exposed to how we can use diet and exercise to support specific goals such as muscle development,” Hirsch says. “For women, there is a lot of emphasis on body fat, and we don’t always talk about the importance of healthy muscle. My work has evolved to focus on building muscle through interventions such as high-intensity interval training combined with nutritional supplements.”
Katie is a phenomenal addition to our department. Her intelligence and work ethic are first class, but more importantly, her positive attitude is contagious. She has the potential to elevate those around her while also driving her research agenda forward.
Though Hirsch’s work often includes both men and women to better understand trends and differences between the two groups, women’s health remains understudied overall, especially with regard to the unique hormonal changes that women experience during menopause. According to Hirsch, these shifts might lead to accelerated muscle deterioration – which could be an important underlying factor in the overall health declines seen among women during this phase of life. Her work aims to prevent and reverse these patterns.
When looking for her first position as an assistant professor, the Department of Exercise Science felt like a great fit. Hirsch was familiar with its strong reputation (including its No. 1 ranked Ph.D. program) and was inspired by the high-level research happening at the Arnold School.
“I’m really excited about the potential for collaboration and growth here, particularly in the area of women’s health,” says Hirsch, who is director of The Sustain Lab, where she conducts her research. “I’ve already had a lot of student interest in getting involved with this research, and I’m looking forward to mentoring them and exposing them to how they can advance women’s health.”
"Katie is a phenomenal addition to our department. Her intelligence and work ethic are first class, but more importantly, her positive attitude is contagious," says Shawn Arent, chair of the department. "She has the potential to elevate those around her while also driving her research agenda forward. Katie is an important addition to help advance our applied physiology area and continue to strengthen our culture and environment. I’m looking forward to watching her growth over many years to come."