Published on Brock University (http://www.brocku.ca)
Bareket Falk is a pediatric exercise physiologist, with a wide interest in children’s responses to exercise and the physiological effects that physical training may have on healthy children, as well as on children with chronic diseases. Her current work focuses on the effect of growth, maturation and physical activity on muscle function and on bone development.
Bareket Falk is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Pediatric Exercise Science.
Physical activity during youth can be very beneficial for adults’ cardiovascular and bone health. In fact, physical activity can unmistakably result in better bone development during youth, which is believed to promote bone health and strength in adulthood and thus, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. The mechanisms by which physical activity and exercise enhance bone health, are not clear. More importantly, it is unclear whether these mechanisms are similar in children and in adults.
By comparison, it is unclear whether physical activity and training during youth can also affect neuromuscular function (the way nerves make muscles work) and health and if so, which types of physical activity will be most beneficial for this purpose in children. In fact, the effects of physical activity on neuromuscular function in youth are practically unknown.
Therefore, using strength or exercise testing and EMG, our studies examine muscle function and its response to training in children. Additionally, using quantitative ultrasound and biomarkers, we examine bone health and the changes that take place in bone in response to exercise and training in children.
Growth, maturation and muscle function: the BAM study
The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of growth and maturation, as well as physical activity participation during youth on neuromuscular function. Neuromuscular function (strength and electrical activity within the muscle) was examined in children over a period of four years, in a mixed-longitudinal fashion, spanning an age range of 8-16 year olds. Changes in neuromuscular function with maturation and physical activity can help answer the question of whether physical activity, exercise and training can improve neuromuscular function during childhood. Data analysis is ongoing, examining growth-related and sex-related changes in neuromuscular function.
Prevention of heat-related skin injuries in wheelchair-bound children: the CoolChair study
Pressure sores in wheelchair-bound patients are painful, may cause serious infections, impair quality of life for children and their families, and are expensive to the health-care system. Children with cerebral palsy (CP) have relatively high metabolic rates due to muscle spasticity. This, combined with being wheelchair-bound for all or most of the day and with a reduced skin surface area available for sweat evaporation increases the risks for pressure sores. This project examines the factors putting wheelchair-bound children with CP at risk for pressure sores (i.e., temperature regulation, chair-seat interfaces and seat technologies), as well as appropriate care protocols. The results will lead to novel and innovative interface technologies (i.e., body-seat interface application) and inform guidelines for health-care providers, physiotherapists, coaches, teachers and parents, aimed at reducing the risk of pressure sores in children with CP and other wheelchair-bound populations.
Plyometric-Resistance training study
Explosive muscular force is one of the most important components of daily living and performance-related tasks. In children, plyometric training has been shown to enhance performance (e.g., jump height). However, the effects of plyometric training on neuromuscular function have not been studied in children. This study examines the effect of plyometric training, compared with resistance training, on explosive strength (rate of force development) in children, as well as whether and to what extent these performance changes are accompanied by changes in muscle size and neuromuscular function. A better understanding of how plyometric and resistance training influence children’s ability to produce muscular force will aid in better prescribing and customizing children-specific training regimens.
EMG threshold (EMGTh) study
Many strength-related, metabolically related or endurance-related differences between children and adults might be explained by different pattern of muscle activation in children vs. adults. We hypothesise that children are characterized by lower levels of type-II motor unit recruitment. One technique to get insight into motor unit recruitment pattern is through changes in EMG pattern during progressive exercise (on a bike, on a treadmill, etc.), called, the electromyographic threshold (EMGTh). This technique has been investigated only in adults. This project examines motor unit recruitment, using the EMGTh, in children and in adults, males and females. It is hypothesized that the EMGTh would occur at higher relative exercise intensities in children, compared with adults. Such findings would suggest a different muscle activation regimen, in which children recruit type-II MUs later and to a lesser extent than do adults.
Bone markers response to exercise
Physical activity plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of skeletal mass throughout the life span. Late childhood and early adolescence serve as a “window of opportunity” in terms of optimizing bone health. During childhood and adolescence, high impact exercise, such as jumping, has the greatest benefits on bone structure and mineralization but the specific mechanism(s) responsible for the increase in bone mineral are not well understood. More specifically, it is not clear how physical activity affects bone cell activity that, in time, results in changes in bone mineral content or density. The use of biomarkers (markers of bone turnover) provides information on bone metabolic processes and bone cell activity. This study examines the response of biomarkers of bone metabolism (i.e., indicators of bone formation and resorption) induced by a high-impact, plyometric exercise over 24 hours in children and adults.
Scoliosis, physical activity and bone health
Brace treatment is often recommended for adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis with moderate curvature. However, brace treatment may come at a physiological cost. Namely, the restrictive nature of bracing could preclude or discourage physical activity, while its rigidity might reduce core muscle use and therefore, core muscle strength. Both of these could potentially result in lower bone mineralization during the growing years and lower peak bone mass in adulthood. In this study, we assessed the effects of brace treatment during adolescence, on bone mineral content in young adult women, diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. We found that young women with scoliosis, especially those who were treated with a brace, have significantly lower bone mineral content in their lower limbs compared to women without scoliosis. However, there was no relationship between brace treatment duration bone mineral content, suggesting that the brace treatment is not the likely mechanism of the low bone mineral content. We believe that, indirectly, brace treatment reduces physical activity participation in adolescence, thereby resulting in reduced bone strength in adulthood. The data collection for this study has been completed and the results are being published.
Graduate Student opportunities
I am always happy to hear from prospective students with an interest in children and exercise. I am looking for students who have experience working with children and can demonstrate research skills, particularly students who have completed 4th year or MSc theses. We have a great team of undergraduate students, MSc and PhD students, as well as research associates. Students can get involved in one of the above areas of research (see Current Projects), or develop their own study, involving children and exercise.
If you think you would be a good addition to our lab, I encourage you to read about our research projects and publications (see also Publications tab above), then contact me with an outline of your academic background (current degree and topic, average grades, and research experience), general interests, and perhaps specific ideas about potential projects.
I accept applications from prospective undergraduate students wishing to participate in our field research. Students wishing to conduct independent projects (e.g., PEKN 3P99, 4P99, 4F91) are especially encouraged to apply. A mark ≥ 80% in Growth and Development (PEKN 2P84) and Children’s Response to Exercise (PEKN 4P84), as well as background in data management and statistics, are assets.
Prospective students with the appropriate background are invited to read about our research projects (above) and publications (see Publications tab), and e-mail me a short message outlining their academic background (current year, program, relevant course experience, average grades, and research experience, and an unofficial transcript), and their availability for research during the school year and in the summer. (Please send only .pdf files).