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Students collect senior stories to define health

A group of kinesiology researchers is taking on a single question for a research project: What is health?

Some might say it’s about the numbers.

“Health promotion types of fields tend to put numbers around what health is—120/80 is healthy blood pressure and under 200 is your healthy cholesterol,” said Kinesiology Professor Christi Johnson.

The team, however, is setting out to prove health is not just about the numbers, it’s about the narrative. Neil Pagdin ’18, Tom Greene ’19, and Johnson are using narrative analysis to study health.

“We are looking for a linearity in the narratives,” Greene said. “We think if they have a linear narrative, the more healthy they will be.”

They’re interviewing people over the age of 50 to understand how their stories and life experiences define health.

“Allowing these stories—one of healthy aging and two of the process of the story declining and ending—to start to seem more normal is the logical trajectory of this research,” Johnson said.

Pagdin and Greene are especially focusing on the stories they heard that really touched them to guide their research, and they have learned a lot from seniors in eastern Iowa.

“We have learned that people’s health is very subjective,” Pagdin said. “If someone classifies themselves as healthy, as far as we are concerned they are healthy. As long as they are enjoying their lives and they consider themselves living a fulfilling life, I found that to be important and a significant finding—at least for myself. Coming into this study, I thought health was, Can you run a mile? or Would your doctor say your blood pressure is at the right point?”

To learn more, watch their video story:



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