WHERE ARE THEY NOW? - The former distance runner finds a correlation between exercise and brain function

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Sandy High graduates Paul Loprinzi and Kristina (Oster) are raising their family of four near the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Miss. Sandy High graduate Paul Loprinzi is leading a research effort to show that the best way to kick your brain into gear is to get your feet moving.

Loprinzi, an Associate Professor of Health and Science at the University of Mississippi, has conducted numerous studies over the years that support the connection between exercise and mental health.

"When you can't break through on a cognitive task, get up and start walking," Loprinzi said. "I noticed that I started to think better when I would exercise. New ideas would come to me when I was out running on the trails."

Loprinzi was contending in area road races as a middle schooler and went on to lead the Sandy High distance-running crew, qualifying for the state meet his senior year. He went on to run track and field at Portland State University where he first got a chance to test his theories on exercise science.

"I got my bachelor's degree and it came time to decide what to do next. I liked what I was learning, so I decided to pursue a master's," Loprinzi said. "I found myself in that same situation after getting my master's. The logical next step from doing research was to enter the PhD program and move into academia."

He has excelled in his academic settings in Oxford. In the past year, he has won the Thomas A. Crowe award bestowed by the School of Applied Sciences at Ole Miss and was awarded tenure by the university.

"I love what I do — I wouldn't trade it for anything," Loprinzi said. "I like the combination of doing research and mentoring students. I'm teaching future researchers to have an impact on the scientific community."

Finding a valuable connection between two of his greatest passions, learning and exercise, has been exciting for Loprinzi. He would put in 100-mile weeks during his college days and continues to get out for 2-3 mile runs each morning.

"I'm very passionate about this line of enquiry," Loprinzi said. "Even five minutes of acute exercise can have an effect. I doesn't need to be long and strenuous. Just getting up and walking promotes blood flow to the brain and increases your ability to focus and learn."

Loprinzi is also hopeful of what he is learning about the connection between exercise and memory function.

"Cognition starts to decline in your third decade of life," Loprinzi said. "Exercise after a study session helps with memory recall — we are getting a lot of interesting findings."

Loprinzi was sidelined for much of his junior season of track and field at Sandy. While he was forced to sit out some competitions, he found his life partner.

"I was injured, but I still came out to watch the team every once in awhile and I took notice of her," Loprinzi said.

Her was fellow distance runner Kristina Oster. The pair have been married for 12 years and are raising four children — 10-year-old Ryker, 7-year-old Kiplin, 6-year-old Jovie and 3-year-old Hartley. Kristina runs marathons and half-marathons.

"Oxford is a college town for sure, and I like that my kids are getting early exposure to higher education," Loprinzi said. "It creates an interesting dynamic, and I like that they are being raised in it."

Loprinzi's office is in the recreational building on campus surrounded by soccer fields and racquetball courts.

"The kids drop by a few times a week and get a chance to play," Loprinzi said. "They'll run laps and put their best times up on my whiteboard."

Loprinzi has embraced his southern environment, but the family still looks forward to visits home to Oregon.

"I really like the university where I work, but there's a lot about the Pacific Northwest that I certainly miss," Loprinzi said. "We try to get home at least once a year — I miss the beach and the mountains, the cooler climate and of course, family."

This story appears in our Aug. 9, print edition.

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