Professor hopes research will motivate children to be active

Rachel Sinn

“How often do you do something that you don’t like?” asked Spyridoula Vazou, assistant professor of kinesiology. 

Adults know doing things they do not enjoy is sometimes just a part of life, but during childhood this mindset is a much harder concept to understand. 

Exercise is an essential part of human health, but because many children in today’s society would rather be on a computer or playing an electronic game, it has become harder to produce the motivation that used to come naturally in former generations of adolescents.

“Kids are not that active, and we know there are both short-term and long-term consequences of that lack of physical activity,” Vazou said. 

Vazou said many schools and parents are not realizing they need to provide activities that every child will enjoy.

“Childhood obesity is a major issue,” Vazou said. “We are made to be active and kids have the inner motivation to be active, but as we grow up, we lose that for several reasons.”

Vazou strongly believes that if society can find and produce activities and exercises that interest all children, the inner motivation will carry on throughout their lives. By researching kids from ages 3 to 10, she is determined to find and produce activities that not only keep them healthy physically but also mentally.

“This research study may promote the integration of physical activity with math and other subjects. It’s an alternative to sedentary classes interrupted by short movement breaks,” said research assistant Maria Kohlhaas.

As a senior in elementary education, Kohlhaas hopes students learn to enjoy and develop healthy habits that can be sustained throughout their lives.

As a former lecturer of physical education at a university in Greece, Vazou realized that her students, who were to become teachers, needed more than physical education classes. Thus began her work to find more ways to include movement in the classroom.

“[With exercise] you can have stronger memories and at the same time be more energized, motivated and concentrated,” Vazou said. “It can give you optimized learning.”

During her research, Vazou has classrooms do activities and gathers the opinions of kids and teachers on what they like and what works for them. She also measures the cognitive performance in the lab with the same activities. While Vazou continues her data collection process, she stays busy with her 3-year-old son at home.

“We play with bikes. We go to the park. We run around, it is our game,” she said. “Even if I wanted to keep him less active, I wouldn’t be able to.”

Although she doesn’t have to motivate her own child, Vazou hopes that the outcome of her research will provide a more positive experience for those who don’t enjoy much activity.

“Our first priority is to give positive experiences to the kids and the experiences that are appropriate. That is what I believe is key to being successful,” Vazou said.