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Friday, July 25, 2014

Exercise Science Isn’t Just Fun and Games

By Janet Miller

Marvin Boluyt, co-chair of WCC’s life science department and developer of its exercise science program, wears a tie to class. It’s a small reminder that exercise has come a long way from playing kickball in the schoolyard.

Exercise science weaves together biology, chemistry, and physics, along with original source research and data collection, Boluyt said. “It’s the science of physiology during exercise,” he said. “It’s about what happens to the body during exercise: about blood pressure and heart rate going up. About the long-term changes that come from exercising regularly.”

WCC’s exercise science program, which started on the heels of the opening of the Health and Fitness Center, just wrapped up its third year. “We were promoting exercise in one way and we felt we should study the academics of it,” Boluyt said.

Degree Can Lead to Variety of Careers

The exercise science associate in science degree prepares students for entry-level jobs in health and fitness-related fields. And it helps them get ready to take the American College of Sports Medicine certification exams for personal trainers or health fitness instructors.

The degree also paves the way for a bachelor’s degree at four-year institutions in kinesiology and other sports medicine or health and fitness fields. WCC has an articulation agreement with Eastern Michigan University that provides a smooth transition for transfer students seeking a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

Exercise science also is a great pre-med degree, Boluyt said. And it can be a good start toward becoming a physician’s assistant, physical therapist, coach, or physical education teacher.

Exercise science as a field is beginning to gain the respect it deserves, Boluyt said. “People used to think exercise science was physical education, but it’s not as much a misconception as it used to be,” he said. “It’s now on par with other sciences.” Physical education has evolved as well, as more physical education teachers are trained in exercise science. “Now they are trained in science as opposed to just the rules of the game. Training methods have become very scientific,” he said.

Student Seeks to Turn Fitness Hobby Into Career

What exercise science is not, said Boluyt, is gym class. That becomes clear on the first day of class, said Lorie Beardsley, who hopes to earn an exercise science degree by the end of the Fall Semester. “There’s an emphasis on critical thinking and the scientific process,” Beardsley said. “It became immediately clear how challenging the class was going to be.”

A former journalist, Beardsley returned to school under the No Worker Left Behind program. The state approved the exercise science program as a growing field, she said, and fitness had long been a hobby for her. She hopes to become a trainer or a physical therapist.

For Amy Geyer, who plans to finish an associate degree in exercise science by the end of summer, the program has prepared her to take the ACSM test this summer. The certification, she said, will give her a leg up when looking for a personal trainer job at a fitness club or center.

She’s going to enroll at EMU to pursue a degree in special education with a minor in adaptive physical education. She expects her exercise science degree to come in handy again when she is student teaching and her schedule won’t allow her to work regular hours. To help pay for school, she wants to offer private personal training.

The program also has a practical application, Geyer said. She knew about the benefits of exercise for cardiovascular disease. “But it even helps prevent cancer and depression and it strengthens the immune system. I had no idea,” she said. And it’s helped her avoid injury. “In high school, I used to get shin splints. But I’ve learned you shouldn’t overwork yourself. You shouldn’t go from not running for a month to running six miles two weeks later. That’s too much, too quick,” Geyer said.

The exercise science program covers a wide range of subjects, from nutrition to what happens to the body when exercising at high altitudes, Boluyt said. And there’s a group research project: One class studied how different footwear affected the economy of running.

Just as smoking became the top health issue of the 1980s, exercise has taken center stage for this decade. Research is expanding from the health benefits of exercise to the risks of sitting, Boluyt said.

While exercise science is a serious program, there is some fun. In Tests and Measurements, students get hands-on experience using instruments that measure everything from body fat to oxygen consumption to strength. Students are their own subjects.

The Wingate Test measures peak anaerobic power, and involves a 30-second sprint with resistance on a bike. “It’s painful, but it’s temporary pain,” Beardsley said. “It hurts for just a minute or two. We gathered data and looked at the results. It’s good to be part of the process.”

Janet Miller is a freelance writer.

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