NMSU Kinesiology research tracks physical activity across the lifespan

This article originally appeared in Panorama Vol. 70

2 students at computers

 Extensive and groundbreaking research into the human progression of physical activity, from childhood to adulthood, is being conducted in labs at Rentfrow Hall and the James B. Delameter Activity Center at NMSU.

Eryn Murphy arrived at New Mexico State University as an undergraduate student on a swim scholarship and quickly fell in love with NMSU’s Department of Kinesiology and Dance.

She received her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from NMSU in 2013, received her master’s degree in exercise science from Western Washington, and is back at NMSU working on her doctorate in kinesiology.

“The instructors and professors here are so incredibly supportive and pushed me to take chances that I absolutely would not have taken without that push,” said Murphy, whose research focuses on falls in older adults. “To walk into a program that already has established lines of research made a lot of my work easier in that I had a support system that was interested in what I was working on and wanted to work on. NMSU has one of the most amazing kinesiology programs ever.”

Many people may not realize that extensive and groundbreaking research into the human progression of physical activity, from childhood to adulthood, is going on in labs at Rentfrow Hall and the James B. Delameter Activity Center at NMSU, as well as participating schools and community centers locally. The former dance studios at the Activity Center have been turned into kinesiology lab spaces.

Some of the kinesiology department’s research is extending well beyond the NMSU campus labs. Kinesiology professor Kim Oliver has been working on several projects across the globe to study physical activity among teenage girls.

“I have been studying curriculum and instructional strategies for working with adolescent girls for the last 20 years,” Oliver said. “I started by trying to understand how girls learn to think and feel about their bodies because that has such an impact on their health-related decisions. I was hoping to find ways of making physical education more relevant for girls because adolescence is when girls start dropping out of physical activity.”

2 students demonstrate equipment to measure the metabolic rate

NMSU’s kinesiology students Joshua Krause, left, and Josi Gabaldon demonstrate equipment to measure the metabolic rate inside one of the new labs at Rentfrow Hall.

For the past two years, Oliver and other researchers have been working with physical education teachers in public schools in Glasgow, Scotland, to learn more about how implementing an “activist” approach to physical activity affects girls’ participation.

In a separate project, kinesiology associate professor Phillip Post and College of Health and Social Services associate professor Rebecca Palacios are studying elementary school-age girls and their physical activity through the Aggie Play program.

Post and Palacios have received funding from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Healthy Eating and Active Living initiative and the Mountain West Consortium Clinical and Translation Research initiative to support Aggie Play, which is modeled after the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, a nonprofit program in California that uses female college student athletes from local universities to engage elementary school girls in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for an hour once a week after school.

Last year, Aggie Play was successfully implemented at Hillrise Elementary School. Using active women role models from NMSU athletics and the kinesiology department, girls in third through fifth grade participated in physical activity games twice a week throughout the school year.

“The results of the final assessment showed that girls participating in Aggie Play demonstrated improved fitness and self-efficacy to engage in physical activity compared to girls at a control site, Alameda Elementary School,” Post said.

Because of the program’s success, the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation has awarded Aggie Play with $212,000 to continue the program over the next two years.

Meanwhile, professors like Bob Wood are looking at adults and healthy aging. Wood, a gerontologist, is focusing on predicting the risks of falls among senior citizens and the benefits of tai chi among the elderly.

“It will be within the next 15 years or so that all baby boomers will be 65 years of age and older, and even more pronounced are the number of people who will be 85 years of age and older,” Wood said. “This is one of the areas where we have a really keen interest, because the healthcare needs of these individuals and their need for assistance in order to live independently or in assisted care or a nursing care environment are increasing substantially every day.”
The kinesiology Ph.D. program was approved in 2015 and began admitting students in the 2016-2017 academic year. It is the newest Ph.D. program at NMSU.

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