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Jacobs School associate dean shares her drive for cardio-fitness

Lisa Jane Jacobsen arrives to lead her cardio fitness class in her white coat armed with Bluetooth speakers, a yoga mat and plenty of water.

Lisa Jane Jacobsen arrives to lead her cardio-fitness class in the atrium of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published October 22, 2018

“Our medical students are eager to find opportunities for exercise that fit into their busy schedules. They spend a lot of time studying and sitting in classes all day, so they want to be more active and engage in physical activity.”
Lisa Jane Jacobsen, associate dean for medical curriculum
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB

One way to gain the benefits of a healthy heart is take whatever you love to do — jog, swim, hike, play basketball, do yoga or dance — and get out there and do it.

For Lisa Jane Jacobsen, an associate dean for medical curriculum at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB with 17 years of experience as a certified group fitness instructor, the prescription for personal fitness and heart health is cardio aerobics.    

“It is fun, physically and mentally energizing, and set to music,” says Jacobsen, who is associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, pediatric and adolescent gynecology at the Jacobs School.

Jacobsen leads weekly cardio aerobics sessions in the Jacob School atrium in conjunction with UB Athletics. The sessions are open to students, faculty and staff at the Jacobs School, as well as other affiliated patient care staff on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“We are calling it a hi-lo impact cardio-dance work-out,” she says. “It offers additional lower extremity and abdominal exercises and stretching, and is designed for all levels — from beginners to more experienced athletes — for you to take it at your own pace.

“We started in September, and are offering it every Thursday, from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. We have had a variety of medical students, faculty, researchers and other staff participate, and hope to attract more,” she says. “We want to build a following, a steady group of participants.” 

Jacobsen received her group fitness instructor certification in 2009 from the Athletic & Fitness Association of America (AFAA). In 2012, she earned AFAA’s highest level of training as a certified fitness practitioner. But, she says, her interest in fitness goes back a number of years before that.

Lisa Jane Jacobsen leads a cardio fitness class in the atrium of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building.

Lisa Jane Jacobsen leads a cardio-fitness class in the atrium of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

“I had always been interested in fitness classes, so back in 2001, while our family was in Massachusetts, I decided to get certified as an instructor,” she says. “We lived in Canton, a suburb south of Boston, and at the time, I had connections to people in our community who were eager to try and do an exercise class.”

The community center in their town worked perfectly for this idea, Jacobsen says. She started teaching a class twice a week, quickly developing a loyal following of people who attended regularly, from 2001 to 2016, when her family left Canton.

“During those years, I was also working as an ob/gyn at Tufts Medical Center,” she says. “I asked myself how I could keep that going, given my crazy schedule. It turned out to be easier to fit my fitness training and leading the exercise group into my own schedule, as opposed to adapting to someone else’s fixed class schedule.

“I can remember times when I would be driving home from Tufts Medical Center after covering the Labor floor all night, on my way to teach the exercise class, and wouldn’t even have time to change … so I would conduct the fitness classes in my scrubs,” Jacobsen says. “Everyone at the community center just got used to that, and, in fact, I think it also motivated them to keep coming. We were determined and consistent, and we made it all work.

“It was great to be with people from the community, telling you stories about children and events that were going on,” she says. “Since I was always surrounded by physicians, students and patients most of the time, these were people I might not see regularly.

“Some were neighbors, whom I had been friends with forever. Others I became friends with and knew only through the aerobics classes.”

After arriving at the Jacobs School, Jacobsen started to brainstorm about how to bring something similar to her Massachusetts exercise classes to the Downtown Campus.

“Our medical students are eager to find opportunities for exercise that fit into their busy schedules,” she says. “They spend a lot of time studying and sitting in classes all day, so they want to be more active and engage in physical activity.

“They want very much to have something that is easily accessible — right here — to make it possible to go directly from a class, get a workout in, and then go back to studying.”

Jacobsen says she has walked through buildings with people from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, “and we have actually tried to identify locations that might work for this. Finding a big, open, flat space — that is available — is harder than you would think,” she says.

Jacobsen says right now, for the cardio-fitness group, she is advertising to catch students’ interest.

“There is a student Wellness Committee here at the Jacobs School that organizes occasional yoga and spin classes for the students. We want to work on developing activities students can participate in between studies, to try and take care of themselves from a personal standpoint,” she says.

“BNMC Inc. has been offering yoga and walks for workers, staff, administration and others on the BNMC campus.”

Jacobsen says she is staying in touch with people at UB Athletics and the BNMC because both are also working to bring some form of athletic activities to the broader medical campus.

Jacobsen hopes that working together to offer a choice of exercise activities to members of the Jacobs School and BNMC communities will be well-received by everyone.

“Right now, this cardio-workout group is sort of our little pilot,” she says. “Because what we need to do is find out things like, is the noise OK? Is it the right venue for everyone? Does the time work for enough people?”

Jacobsen says there’s also the question of availability of the Jacobs School atrium: “Is there a way to schedule that venue [the atrium] regularly, or are exercise groups going to be bumped out by events that are held in that space? And are there acceptable alternative spots for this type of activity?”

Jacobsen says if that all works out, and she can work up a back-up plan, she would very much like to begin advertising her exercise class to the whole Jacobs School community and encourage anyone who is interested to participate.

“It’s invigorating to have something you can do regularly, to keep you on track with your fitness plan and do with other people who can motivate and coach you,” she says.

“We use energetic music to get people up and moving. It does have a dance component to it. This kind of exercise uses all muscle groups in the upper and lower body, and gets people to move in ways they may not have moved in a long time. And it is for all levels, beginners to intermediate.

“I love doing this, but the type of activity itself doesn’t matter as long as it is something you enjoy doing and it keeps you moving.”