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How much we exercise as children and adolescents is related to how active we are later in life, but is this simply the development of good habits, or is it something more? 

children jumping in a bounce house

This research investigates how physical activity during childhood affects the development of musculoskeletal structures and physiological function in ways that could impact how readily adults perform physical activity. Because controlling and measuring activity throughout childhood is impossible in humans, the team will study bone and muscle structure, walking function, and adult activity levels in birds and mice that participated in varying levels of activity during their development.

The results may help identify the timing and amount of exercise during childhood most important for developing into a healthy, active adult. 

The researchers are also studying whether starting exercise as an adult can reverse changes to the body that occurred due to childhood inactivity. 

Stephen Piazza

We are interested in understanding how late is too late for adopting physical activity behavior. Is it important to begin exercising very early in childhood, or can one start exercising late in adolescence and still avoid ill effects?

Stephen Piazza, professor of kinesiology


Adults who are physically inactive are at risk for many health problems including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and more. Regular physical activity reduces the risk for all these problems, helps protect against chronic disease, and improves sleep, mood, and memory. 

This project seeks to build health throughout life by identifying when childhood physical activity is most important. 


Co-investigators: Jonas Rubenson, Stephen Piazza

Graduate students: Roberto Castro

Post-doctoral scholar: Derek Jurestovsky


Timothy Ryan, professor of anthropology at Penn State
Natalie Holt, assistant professor of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at University of California Riverside


This research is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.