Professor’s pediatric research encourages exercise

Faigenbaum presented research on the importance of children’s exercise. (Photo Courtesy of Karen Young)

Avery Faigenbaum, professor of health and exercise science, began his lecture with an anecdote about how he spent his weekend at his nephew’s fifth birthday party with sugar-filled, energized youngsters.

“Children have an innate desire to move,” he said.

He then went to a 50-year-old’s birthday party and noted the contrast.

Speaking of the lack of excitement and energy at the second party, “What happens between age five and 50?” he asked.

Faigenbaum explored this issues at a Colloquium for the Recognition of Faculty Research and Creative Activity on Nov. 3 in the Ernest and Mildred E. Mayo Concert Hall, during his presentation titled “Physical Activity and Children’s Health: Implications for Youth, Their Families and Our Health Care System.”

The Faculty Senate presents the colloquium, and each year selects two professors who exemplify outstanding research. Faigenbaum was the eighth to receive this honor.

Faigenbaum considers himself a “pediatric exercise scientist.”

During his lecture, he focused on the effectiveness of neuromuscular conditioning.

Faigenbaum emphasized the importance of “FUNdamental training” of America’s youth.

“What we’re really trying to do is spark a lifelong interest in physical activity,” Faigenbaum said of his research.

According to the professor, consequences of inactivity include cardiovascular, metabolic, musculoskeletal, psychosocial and health care problems.

He showed a picture of an 11-year-old weighing 270 pounds and told the audience to “put a 100 pounds dumbbell in your knapsack and go for a jog.” This would be the equivalent of the child trying to run with the 100 extra pounds he’s carrying.

“Kids are not miniature adults,” Faigenbaum said, explaining that children can’t be expected to perform the same activities adults use to lose weight.

“I have a different focus. If I enhance their motor skills and make them better movers, they’re more likely to engage in physical activity,” he said.

Playground activities provide short bursts of energy, as well as ways to strengthen the body and muscles, Faigenbaum explained.

Instead of training for a specific sport, he teaches FUNdamental movement, a training method called “developmental symmorphosis,” the concept that “no single component should develop faster than the rest of the system as a whole.”

The training consists of using balloons, lunges, games, medicine balls and other fun, age-appropriate activities.

When discussing his program’s success he put a picture of an 8-year-old girl holding a giant dumbbell on the screen, “At this point in the show, you’re probably thinking ‘He’s nuts,’ ” he said.

Yet the girl was not actually holding a heavy weight; it was merely illustrating her proper weight lighting methods.

He said it is about “physical re-education,” and implementing usage of medicine balls and hopscotch to improve overall fitness. When the muscles are strengthened properly, individuals are less prone to injury.

During his research, students from the College worked with him at the Trenton YMCA, building gardens and teaching children about healthy eating.

The photo of the 11-year-old from the beginning of the presentation was placed on the screen again, and Faigenbaum told the audience how the boy has not been gaining weight, but has gained confidence in his ability to be physically active after starting the conditioning program. But for the boy, the greatest part was that he got invited for the first time to another child’s birthday party, at age 11.

“So this is the work I do,” he said. “Here’s my argument: We need to make children better movers and increase their confidence in their ability to exercise.”