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NMSU researcher studies lifelong benefits of motor skills and physical activity

An associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at New Mexico State University examines how and why children move in hopes of promoting physical activity into adulthood.

Larissa True joined the NMSU faculty last fall from the State University of New York – Cortland. True’s areas of expertise are engine development, statistics and research methods.

“We are very pleased that Dr. True is joining the Department of Kinesiology,” said Joseph M. Berning, Head of the Department of Kinesiology. “His experience and background provides a rare combination that will benefit undergraduate and graduate students in the areas of motor development and statistics. In a short time here, she has already made great strides in contributing to the advancement of our department, and we look forward to a great future with her in the team.

True got her doctorate. in Kinesiology with a concentration in Motor Development from Michigan State University, where she studied with Karin Pfeiffer, a renowned physical activity researcher.

“While at Michigan State, I wanted to delve deeper into how kids move and why they move the way they do,” True said. “Think back to when you were a little kid in physical education class. You had the superstars here, but the struggling kids are here. Why is that?”

True said that while researching the topic, she discovered a link between genetics and movement. She looked at a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is encoded by the BDNF gene.

“All humans secrete BDNF, and this is important because its secretion leads to synaptic plasticity, which lends itself to learning new skills and then remembering how to do those skills,” True said.

True said the BDNF gene can be expressed in different ways. For example, a person with the polymorphism, a genetic variation, would not secrete as much BDNF as a person without the polymorphism.

“With my thesis, I wanted to see if physical activity would somehow supplant the effects of polymorphism,” True said. “It turns out so.”

True said he found that polymorphic children who became more physically active exhibited motor skills at the same level as children without polymorphism.

“This gives us a good way to promote physical activity, because the more active you are, the more BDNF you secrete and the faster you should be able to learn and relearn motor skills,” True said.

True’s research focuses on evaluating polymorphism and its effects in schoolchildren. This assessment involves the use of sputum kits to discover the genetic expression of a child. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, True was unable to conduct these assessments and focused on students, including student-athletes.

“I published an article that was written with a former master’s student,” True said. “We looked at Physical Fitness, Motor Proficiency and Perceived Competence, which is a person’s individual perception of their ability to master certain skills. “

True said he found that student-athletes see themselves as better movers and are better movers than the average student.

“A lot of it has to do with what happened when they were kids,” True said. “Physical activity tends to decrease over the course of a lifetime, but if we can encourage children to be active in their youth, the idea is that if you learn to move and learn to move well, you will. wanting to do more as you get older. It’s human nature. We tend not to do things we’re not good at.

What’s concerning, True said, is that because of COVID-19 and the shift to online learning, physical education classes are being phased out.

“Kids need it, especially when kids are entering college,” True said. “There’s a ton of research across the board, especially in academic achievement, that says kids do best in school when they’re given the opportunity to move. “

To learn more about this research, click here.



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