08:16am Wednesday 23 August 2017

Posthumous master’s research favours group exercise for cardiac rehabilitation

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Venessa Green

Ms Green was on the verge of completing her thesis when she died last year. She was posthumously awarded a Master of Health Science with distinction in Sport and Exercise at the Massey graduation ceremonies in Wellington today.

Her research aimed to determine the effects of a 16-week exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programme for improving participants’ physical status, psychological well-being and quality of life, and to find out whether group-based exercise with social interaction is more beneficial than exercising alone.

Ms Green, who was studying part-time while working, conducted a pilot study with six participants in 2009, then a full study with 11 cardiac patients in 2010. Ms Green divided her 16-week exercise programme into four blocks of four weeks. All participants first did four weeks of standard group exercise activities (the baseline) in the Massey Cardiac Rehabilitation Clinic. The participant group then split in two, with half experiencing increased social interaction within group exercise, and the other half undertaking individual exercise and minimal social interaction. At the study’s mid-point participants did the four-week baseline again, and then for the final four weeks, they crossed over to the alternative intervention (technically known as a randomised crossover study design). Ms Green conducted comprehensive physical and psychological testing on participants at the start of the study and at each four-week point.

There were few statistically significant changes across the course of the study, possibly because of the small sample size, but the results suggest that group exercise may have a more positive effect than individual exercise on anxiety, depression and health-related quality of life. The study also generally produced the expected beneficial physical results from exercise: participants experienced a significant reduction in total cholesterol across the course of the study, and their diastolic blood pressure and blood sugar levels improved. Unexpectedly, though, HDL cholesterol significantly increased and TC/HDL cholesterol decreased.

When Ms Green died on June 29, 2011, she was very close to submitting the penultimate draft of her thesis. She had analysed all results for both her pilot and main studies, written all of her draft thesis chapters and re-worked them in light of feedback from her supervisors. She also had extensive annotated notes for the discussion section of the thesis. After her death, Ms Green’s primary supervisor, Associate Professor Antonia Lyons, turned those notes into a discussion section, using as many of Ms Green’s own sentences or partial sentences as she could and conducting no additional research. Dr Steve Humphries, her second supervisor, tidied up some language and structure, while friends checked referencing and formatting and ensured it was in complete form for printing and binding.

Many of Ms Green’s family and friends attended the graduation today. Her brother, Aaron Green, carried her gown and photograph across the stage and accepted her degree scroll. “Our family are tremendously proud of Venessa and what she has achieved. Her goal was always to attain her master’s degree and she dedicated herself to achieving this. Everything she set herself; she always put in 100%. Her personality would light up a room and we miss her very much,” Mr Green says.

Dr Lyons says Ms Green’s distinction grade was fully deserved. “Venessa worked tirelessly on her master’s research, despite many obstacles and the time-consuming nature of her data collection. She was great with her cardiac participants and got to know them well.

“Venessa was delightful to supervise as she was so motivated and her enthusiasm for her topic was infectious. She read widely, and drew on previous research conducted across a number of different disciplines, including cardiac rehabilitation and health psychology, pulling different strands together in a scholarly way.

“Venessa had just begun a new position as lecturer in Psychology at Weltec, a position ideally suited to her. Her bright and bubbly nature, alongside her many years of study, meant she had a huge amount to offer the students there. It is great to see her degree awarded and her hard work and achievements celebrated.”

The final line of the thesis acknowledgments, written by close friend Charlotte Stephens, speaks directly to Ms Green: “We are so proud that this thesis is complete and will celebrate the day you graduate for you.”

Massey University.

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