The summer of 2015 was when I started officially as a graduate research assistant. I was fresh out of undergrad and ready to take on the world. My first assignment was to conduct an observational physical activity protocol (System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth) at the Northern Virginia 4-H camp. What is 4-H you ask? 4-H is a youth educational development program offered through Cooperative Extension and stands for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. The PARCI lab focuses on that last H, Health. Through the protocol I conducted over the summer 66% of youth were found to be sedentary during the observations. We aim to help campers reach the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
After these findings were presented to Virginia Cooperative Extension agents, two camp directors reached out to the PARCI lab and asked us to help train their summer college- aged counselors. In the research world, I spend A LOT of time in a cubicle or sitting down doing the “behind the scenes work” of analyzing data, running statistics, or writing papers. I thrive on community interaction, which we don’t get much of but when we do I’m ecstatic for it – a chance to make a difference face to face instead of behind a computer screen. So when I got news about this training I went full throttle into planning mode and then we went to the Airfield, VA camp for 2 days to train their staff on how to incorporate physical activity into the daily camp life.
We presented on three main topics:
1. Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Quality Standards (HEPA QS)-- The HEPAQS are a set of guidelines that can be implemented into camp training to set up a healthy camp environment.
2. “Funtervals” (see tutorial video here), and
3. Encouraging nutritious eating at camp.
Through an integrated-research practice partnership, PARCI and the 4-H organization hope to work together to improve future camp experiences. Children are such a vital audience since camp is an opportunity in which they can learn healthy behaviors and implement them at home! A program we recommended to them is called Funtervals, which are short physical activity exercises that align with fun story lines for kids. The camp staff got really into it, using their imaginations and personalizing it to their respective camps. We also presented information on healthy eating and how to choose healthy options at camp. We did not have a say in the camp menu but we certainly gave them the tools on how to use portion sizes and how to choose nutritiously dense foods over processed items.
Then we led a big physical activity one hour-long session, which was my favorite part of the trip. I’m a personal training and small group training coach so this is where my passions come into play. We played games such as running across the room and back and then having to find someone that was from the same camp as you. If you didn’t find a partner in time then you would have to do 5 push-ups. This is a great warm up activity and makes it fun! Then they broke into teams and did a plank relay which is when everyone is planking side by side in a line, then the person from the back gets up and runs to the front of the line. The team continues to do this until they reach the other side. We also did a squat challenge where teams in a circle, held a squat with their backs facing one another and when someone broke form, that’s when their team was out. Everyone’s favorite of the night was when we did a dance choreographed to a song. To end the workout, we did a stability ball pass and had the staff lay on the ground in the shape of “4-H” (picture below). Then we cooled down and stretched to Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself.
This goes to show, that physical activity can be fun! And all the time spent in the cubicle leads up to big moments like this. Opportunities like this 4-H training make all that time worth it to me. To see my work actually having an impact, that’s what reminds me that what I do is important. Sometimes, in graduate school it’s hard to remember that or see the application of your work. This is a memory that I will always cherish. Who knows what the future will hold with 4-H and physical activity, is there room for more collaboration or creation of new programs!? Only time will tell.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to share another edition of beyond the cubicle sooner than later!