Hofstra Horizons Research

Promoting Physical Activity and Learning in Laboratory and Field-Based Research

Katie Sell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences

Brian Clocksin, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences

Promoting Physical Activity and Learning

In 2007 the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) released physical activity recommendations that expanded on those initially endorsed by the U.S. surgeon general in 1996. Specifically, these updated recommendations state, “… all healthy adults aged 18-65 years need moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum or 20 minutes on three days each week” (Haskell et al., 2007, p. 1425). For children and adolescents, the current recommendations are 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on a daily, or near daily basis (USDHHSUSDA, 2005). It is well understood that regular participation in physical activity can reduce the risk for numerous chronic disease conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and several forms of cancer (ACSM, 2005). However, obesity rates are still climbing among adults and children in the United States, despite one of the national health objectives of Healthy People 2010 to reduce adult obesity to below 15 percent nationwide (USDHHS, 2000). Recent estimates suggest that 73 percent of children and 50 percent of adults in the United States do not perform regular physical activity (CDC, 2007), and that close to 365,000 deaths each year in the United States can be ascribed to a lack of physical activity and poor nutritional balance (Mokdad, Marks, Stroup & Gerberding, 2004).

For many years health professionals from physical educators and sports coaches, to physicians and exercise physiologists, have implemented all manner of programs to improve physical activity levels among both the general and specific target populations. Few of these efforts have achieved long-term success for large numbers of individuals needing improvement in their physical activity commitments and overall health. The seemingly omnipresent need for more innovative motivational tools and better intervention approaches to increase physical activity thus continues to be advocated from a governmental and institutional perspective on a national level. Last year within our own academic and surrounding communities, we expanded on and added several initiatives, laboratory and field-based, to promote physical activity through a combination of both nontraditional pursuits and “lifetime” activities in both children and young adults.

Addressing Obesity Through Video Game Play

The first of our research endeavors examines the utility of what some might consider a rather unorthodox mode of physical activity to serve as a viable means to meet the current physical activity recommendations outlines by the ACSM and AHA – a physically interactive video game, the Nintendo Wii Sports program (Nintendo of America Inc., Redmond, WA). Specifically, the project involves examining the average energy expenditure generated when playing 30 minutes of the Nintendo Wii Sports tennis game, which will allow for further in-depth assessment of exercise intensity, an important yet often understated component of physical fitness programming.

Understandably, many people may have reservations about encouraging video game use among children and young adults, given the commonly held belief that video gaming, computer use, and television watching are positively related to physical inactivity and higher obesity levels. Indeed, research has suggested a strong negative correlation between physical activity and obesity with television watching among children (Salmon, Timperio, Telford, Carver, & Crawford, 2005), but surprising to some, a similar relationship has not been observed for physical activity and video gaming among children (Marshall, Biddle, Goreley, Cameron, & Murdey, 2004). For college students, the relationship between television watching, video gaming, and computer use is even less well established. Buckworth and Nigg (2004) suggested that as computer use, not television watching, increased among college students, the amount of moderate and vigorous physical activity decreased. The popularity of video games among children and adults, however, is clear – in 2007 alone, the U.S. video game industry pocketed approximately $18 billion, with the Nintendo Wii system becoming one of the top-selling console systems (NPD, 2008). This system represents a growing trend in video gaming, that of physically interactive video games (PIVGs) – programming that requires the player to stand and move around to bring about a desired effect on the video screen (via a handheld motion controller). Scientific and anecdotal reports support the utility of PIVGs to encourage, albeit indirectly, participation in physically active pursuits. Greater levels of enjoyment and adherence to a physical activity program have also been expressed in interventions incorporating an interactive video game (Warburton et al., 2007). Energy expenditure levels associated with playing several popular PIVGs currently on the market, such as Dance, Dance Revolution (DDR; Konami of America, Inc., Redwood City, CA) and Eye Toy (Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Foster City, CA), have matched or exceeded minimal recommendations over a 30-minute game play period (Luke et al., 2005).

Results from the 2003 National College Health Assessment suggest that 32 to 47 percent of college students are physically inactive (ACHA, 2005). Although activities such as walking and cycling can be used as common models of physical activity, many college students do not report enjoyment of these traditional physical activities (Leenders, Sherman, & Ward, 2003). Identifying more enjoyable and nontraditional ways of acquiring recommended levels of physical activity has been suggested as a means to overcome the reluctance of young adults to participate in physical activity, and video game manufacturers seem to be tapping into this market with increasing fervor. Therefore, it makes sense to appeal to current trends and the interests of a given population. Even though popularity is not in question, our project will provide some initial insight into whether the Nintendo Wii Sports games can serve as a viable alternative to walking or cycling in meeting current physical activity recommendations, a claim that, despite anecdotal support, is still largely undetermined.

PIVG as a Pedagogical Tool

A major objective of physical education programs is to teach children a variety of motor skills that will promote future involvement in sport and physical activity. Current physical activity and obesity trends in children are disturbing – approximately 30 percent of 6-11 year olds are thought to be overweight and 15 percent obese (AOA, 2005). According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (2005), children between the ages of 8 and 18 years spend approximately 44.5 hours per week watching television or occupied on a computer or video gaming system. While these statistics are frightening, electronic media do offer a potentially viable learning medium for the presentation of skill practice, development, and reinforcement. The process of skill acquisition is limited without adequate practice opportunities in a developmentally appropriate setting that provides progression and application of skills.

The Nintendo Wii Sports tennis game, when combined with physical education instruction, provides a medium through which to practice tennis-specific skills while receiving feedback from a teacher. As a PIVG, the Nintendo Wii Sports tennis game has the capability to simulate competitive tennis play and to practice a wide variety of strokes (forehand, backhand, overhand, and lob) in a training/non-competitive situation. Other PIVGs, such as DDR, have shown the potential to link integrative technology and physical activity in physical education curricula with enthusiastic responses from students. If the Nintendo Wii system can be used as a tool to aid in skill acquisition, then it may help facilitate learning in physical education settings and encourage participation in lifetime physical activity.

Our second line of inquiry targets the potential application of PIVGs as a teaching tool to promote leisure time physical activity and enhance physical education instruction. Beginner college aged tennis players will be randomly assigned to one of four conditions (Wii + court practice, Wii practice only, court practice only, control) to explore the efficacy of the Nintendo Wii Sports tennis game to elicit improvements in backhand groundstroke performance.

From the Laboratory to the Field

Transferring research to practice is essential if we are going to have a meaningful impact on the physical activity and adiposity levels of children and young adults. With many schools reducing the amount of time students participate in physical education, it is becoming increasingly important to provide additional physical activity opportunities in after-school programming. The transition from laboratory to field-based intervention is not without challenges, as schools adapt to the outcome-based requirements mandated by No Child Left Behind. It has become increasingly more difficult to gain access to schools for interventions targeting physical activityrelated, non-academic endeavors.

Club Hofstra: Academic, Athletic, and Mentoring Programs (CHAAMPs) is a grant-funded (United States Tennis Association’s Tennis and Education Foundation) collaborative project between Hofstra University and Uniondale’s Walnut Street Elementary School designed to promote academic, athletic, and social development of third- through fifth-grade students.

The CHAAMPs program expanded on a successful after-school math academy that has been in place at Walnut Street Elementary for the last five years and a “Moving With Math” integrated physical activity and math program piloted in spring 2007. CHAAMPs provides 150 third- to fifth-grade students with opportunities to find success in being physically active, learn about personal and social responsibility, and receive tutoring for preparation for the New York state exams in mathematics and reading. As part of the program, 25 high school and college students serve as mentors in the reading and after-school programs.

The purpose of CHAAMPs is threefold:

1) To provide an innovative academic mentoring program for low performing third-, fourth- and fifth grade students.

2) To provide an integrated youth development and athletic skills program.

3) To develop mentoring skills in high school and college students. The program has five goals:

1) To improve students’ math and reading performances on New York state examinations.

2) To improve students’ self-efficacy toward math and reading.

3) To improve personal and social responsibility.

4) To increase physical activity and motor skills while decreasing obesity levels.

5) To develop mentoring skills in high school and college students.

Using Physical Activity to Develop Math Skills

Our partnership with Walnut Street Elementary School began as an experiment to combine math skills with physical activities. Moving With Math utilized physical activity to reinforce math concepts in third- though fifth grade students. In partnership with the Math Learning Academy, physical activities were developed that focused on math concepts such as developing and interpreting graphs. Students learned how to apply concepts in their daily lives while being physically active. For example, third graders learned to interpret (perform warm-up activities that match the graph) and create (take results from physical activities) bar graphs. The fifth graders wore pedometers (small mechanical devices that record the number of steps taken), determined their stride length, and calculated distance traveled to determine perimeters and areas of shapes created in the gymnasium.

Using Physical Activity to Develop Personal and Social Responsibility

Our programs at Walnut Street Elementary School are grounded in a personal and social responsibility model developed by Hellison (1995). The model has routinely been used in physical activity settings (Hellison, 2000; Shilling, 2001; Watson, Poczwardowski, & Eisenman, 2000) to encourage responsibility in children and young adults. The model identifies five levels of responsibility (irresponsibility, self-control, participation, selfdirection, and caring) that students can exhibit (Hellison & Templin, 1991). Students in our programs are routinely asked to self-evaluate their level of responsibility and are provided with opportunities to exhibit responsibility for themselves and others. The activities we select and the discussions we have with participants focus on respecting themselves and others.

Developing Mentoring Skills in Adolescents and Young Adults

The final component of our program is the development of mentoring skills in young adults. Using a service learning framework, mentors are provided with opportunities to collaboratively work with students in academic and physical activities. Our goal is to develop a commitment to service in young adults while providing authentic learning experiences. A partnership with the Mentoring Partnerships of Long Island has been established to provide additional training to mentors.


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Watson, D.L., Poczwardowski, A., and Eisenman, P. (2000). After-school physical activity programs for adolescent girls. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 71(8):17-21.

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