If there’s one thing pediatric exercise physiologist Bareket Falk wants the world to know, it’s that children are not miniature adults.
“Children’s muscles don’t function the same way as adult muscles,” says the Professor of Kinesiology. “They have their unique particularities and respond to exercise differently.”
For three decades, Falk’s research has shed light on children’s responses to exercise and the physiological effects that physical training has on healthy children and those living with chronic conditions.
For her efforts, Falk has been awarded Brock University’s 2021 Award for Distinguished Research and Creative Activity.
The $10,000 award recognizes faculty whose distinguished research or creative activity demonstrates outstanding research achievements, contributions to the training of future researchers, and strong performance in scholarly or creative performance.
“Dr. Falk has given us important insights into how children’s muscles function and the impact on children’s growth, bone development, maturation and training,” says Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon.
“Understanding children’s physical development has important implications for our expectations of their performance and how best to foster their growth,” he says.
Falk and her team are intrigued by their finding that children’s muscles are not as strong as those of adults, even factoring into account children’s relatively small size compared to their adult counterparts.
The precise reasons for this are yet unknown, but Falk and her team are investigating two possible explanations.
Human bodies contain various kinds of muscle fibres, which are classified into Type 1 and Type 2, with Type 2 being more powerful, larger and faster. Potentially, children may have relatively fewer Type 2 muscles, says Falk.
The other explanation is related to muscle activation.
“Children don’t activate their muscles to the same extent as adults,” says Falk. “We’re trying to measure and assess how the nervous system sends down nerves and signals to activate and contract the muscle in children.”
Despite these differences, children actually have a competitive advantage over adults when it comes to aerobic activity, says Falk.
“When we give children endurance training, they can run, they can exercise for a long time; in fact, they are probably in a better position to keep going than we are,” she says.
Falk’s research can shape how adults perceive children’s exercise capabilities. While adults shouldn’t expect too much of children, neither should they view children as being a “vulnerable” population that shouldn’t be challenged to do more, better and faster.
The research can also guide those who design and deliver exercise programs for children.
“When we prescribe activity to children, it shouldn’t be based on what we know is good for adults,” says Falk. “We’ve been applying adult guidelines to children’s exercise where this doesn’t lead us to good results.”
Falk says she is “humbled” and excited about receiving the 2021 Award for Distinguished Research and Creative Activity.
“This will allow us to continue our research, to support graduate students, which is really, really important, especially today,” she says. “This is a team effort; there’s no way I could have done this by myself.”