Research in the laboratory of Thomas P. Olson is focused on understanding how multiple physiological systems (heart, lungs, skeletal muscle, nervous system) interact during physical activity and exercise.
Dr. Olson's lab seeks to discover how exercise testing can be used as a tool to better understand these physiologic interactions and to help determine an individual's response to treatment. His team is also investigating how exercise training can be used to improve these physiological interactions and to determine the most effective way to bring exercise training into the clinical practice.
- Control of breathing during exercise. For some patients, breathing during exercise can be quite difficult. This challenge can lead to changes in blood pressure, blood flow distribution and reduced exercise tolerance. Dr. Olson's team aims to better understand the underlying mechanisms that contribute to unusual breathing patterns during exercise and to investigate ways to improve these problems.
- Regulating blood pressure during exercise. For most healthy individuals, blood pressure goes up during exercise to help supply muscles with more oxygen-rich blood. However, for some patients, blood pressure rises too much. For other patients, it does not go up enough. Studies in Dr. Olson's laboratory are designed to better understand how the skeletal muscles, respiratory muscles and nervous system contribute to changes in blood pressure during exercise and how these changes impact exercise tolerance.
- Controlling blood flow during exercise. Increasing the amount of blood flowing to working muscles during exercise is necessary. For some patients, the increase in blood flow to the muscle is reduced. Dr. Olson's team conducts studies aimed at understanding the mechanisms of blood flow distribution during exercise, which is essential for understanding exercise tolerance.
- Exercise training. Structured exercise training is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise training is also used as a rehabilitation tool for patients with chronic diseases. Dr. Olson's team studies different types of exercise training — moderate intensity continuous training, interval training, strength training, and more — to better understand which types of exercise can have the most positive impact on patients' lives and determine the most effective way to prescribe that exercise.
- Predicting outcomes. Being able to predict who will benefit most from an intervention or how an intervention will impact a patient is an important aspect of medicine. Dr. Olson and his collaborators use large data sets to better understand predictors of outcomes in patients with chronic cardiovascular disease.
- Technology in medicine. From smartphones to smart watches and wearable devices, technology in society is advancing at an extraordinary pace. Using these technological tools to monitor patients' vital signs, send important messages to and from care providers, and otherwise interact with patients outside the traditional walls of a clinic or hospital can help patients reach their health goals. Dr. Olson's laboratory studies how best to use various technologies in clinical practice to improve outcomes for patients.
Significance to patient care
The overarching goal of Dr. Olson's research is to improve the quality of life for patients living with chronic cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. Quality of life is often linked to an individual's ability to engage in physical activity and exercise, from climbing a flight of stairs to running a 5K race for the first time. This research can provide new insights into the mechanisms contributing to exercise intolerance, how exercise can be used as a rehabilitative tool to improve function, and how to best implement different types of exercise training and rehabilitation programs in clinical practice.
- Fellow, American College of Sports Medicine, 2015-present
- Fellow, American Heart Association, 2011-present