The University of Michigan Exercise and Sport Science Initiative recently awarded $800,000 in grants to four University research teams studying the effects that physical activity has on various aspects of health. Established in 2016, ESSI aims to combine the various talents from across campus to better understand the relationship between athletic performance and health. The four interdisciplinary teams will be awarded payments in increments of $50,000 after completing biannual reviews of their projects.

Each of the four projects encompass the ESSI’s six identified research interests: wise wearable sensor technology, injury prevention, diagnosis and management, improved physical activity across the lifespan, individualized augmented reality and virtual reality and sports and learning analytics.

In a statement from the University, Ron Zernicke, professor of kinesiology and co-director of the ESSI, said the projects would eventually have real impacts in the field of health.

“The projects awarded as part of our first round of pilot grants highlight the multidisciplinary nature of this field, which will ultimately lead to improvements in health, well-being and performance,” he said. “By working together, we are exploring the science underlying new advances, with the eventual goal of translating these new ideas into practice.”

The four teams are researching a variety of topics related to physical health, including the effects of physical activity on cognitive function and brain-aging, how circadian rhythms can be used to enhance athletic performance and developing a model for injury resilience in running sports.

One of the teams, headed by Steve Oney, associate professor of Information and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Michael Nebeling, associate professor of Information and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Sun Young Park, assistant professor of Art and Design, hopes to create ways for non-programmers to collect data from various platforms, understand their significance and apply them to improve athletic performance.

In an email interview, Oney explained his research is valuable because it helps people better understand and work towards their goals with regard to athletics.

“I think the research we outline in our proposal is important because it will help support the wide variety of goals that recreational (and professional) athletes have,” he wrote. “Some people care about fitness goals. Others care about rehabilitation or form. Ultimately, I think that athletes will benefit if we provide tools that will allow people to better summarize and act towards their specific goals, rather than using a one-size-fits all approach of counting steps, distance, or other pre-set metrics.”

Oney also mentioned how his research allowed him to work with different topics that were important to him.

“It combines two of my interests: fitness and end-user programming tools (tools that allow non-programmers to do things that would normally require programming knowledge),” he wrote. 

With the money received from the ESSI, Oney and his team hope to hire students to help with research and purchase more equipment to continue their work.

Students are excited by the University’s effort to better understand how performance and health influence each other. LSA freshman Yu-Ting Chiang noted the project combined some of the University’s greatest assets.

“I think it’s really neat that Michigan has a project like this,” Chiang said. “Michigan is really well known for sports and for research, so the fact that the two are being combined I think can really help people in the long run.”

Chiang was also impressed to know that the projects were targeting both athletes and non-athletes.

“A lot of the time research into sports is only for major athletes –– which I understand –– but knowing that it’ll benefit someone who isn’t as into sports, like myself, also is good to hear,” Chiang said.

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