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Mothers and their 2-to-5-year-old daughters are participating in a Saturday morning exercise class and research study aimed at promoting lifelong physical activity. (Photos by Cliff Hollis) 


Research study, exercise program targets moms and daughters

March 30, 2017

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Encouraging mothers and daughters to be active together is one of the goals of a three-month East Carolina University research and exercise program.

This spring, 22 pairs of mothers and their daughters age 2-5 are participating in a Saturday morning exercise class, setting the stage for lifelong physical activity through the study led by Dr. Deirdre Dlugonski in the ECU Department of Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Performance.

“I hope we’re building a community of moms who want to be active with their children,” she said. “There are so many opportunities for kids to be active or for parents to be active, but there’s not that many for both.”   

A girl dances during a Zumba class at Alice Keene Park in Greenville.

From an early age, girls tend to be less active than boys and that trend continues into adulthood, Dlugonski said. Researchers hope to reverse the trend by introducing physical fitness at an early age and promoting less screen time.

“Girls who enjoy physical activity and who have physically active role models are more likely to be active. Mothers can be one of the best role models for their daughters but are often inactive themselves,” Dlugonski said. “So it’s important to promote physical activity among mothers and daughters and shared activity time to facilitate role modeling.”

Participants in the study have been meeting at Alice Keene Park and also will be meeting at Boyd Lee, Jaycee and Paramore parks and River Park North. ECU undergraduate and graduate students have helped lead free play, a nature walk, Zumba class and hula hoops to introduce different ways of being active.

Tyra Beatty, an ECU senior exercise physiology major, is assisting in the physical activity and research study.

“One of the main goals is to get to know the moms and daughters and get them familiar with physical activity,” said Tyra Beatty, a senior exercise physiology major. “You don’t have to run a mile. As long as you move, that’s the most important thing.”   

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for chronic illness such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression and can contribute to low self-esteem or other problems.

The class provides one-on-one time for mothers and daughters amid the responsibilities of full-time jobs and caring for other siblings and family. “Letting that mom hone in with their daughter makes moms feel more comfortable and competent,” said Lacey Schwab, a second-year graduate student in sport and exercise psychology.

Four-year-old Gabbie Daniels follows along as Stephanie Taylor, an instructor at Fit for Life, leads a Zumba class filled with upbeat music, clapping and dancing.

“It’s something for us to do on weekends together,” said April Daniels, who is taking the class with her 4-year-old daughter Gabbie. Daniels said she has been cutting back on TV and computer time and doing more physical activities with her daughter since signing up for the class.  

On a recent rainy Saturday morning, volunteer Stephanie Taylor, an instructor at Fit for Life, led a Zumba class filled with upbeat music, clapping and dancing.

“She’s coming out of her shell,” mom Morgan Sutton said of her 2-year-old daughter Emersyn. “She can be clingy, but she’s becoming more open to others. She’s always been pretty active.”
Tina Seeman said she was a lot more active before having her second child, a 2-year-old boy. Joining the class is helping her get back on track and spend time with her 4-year-old daughter Natalie. “It’s helping me get a better awareness of simple ways to get more activity and make it a part of our daily life,” Seeman said.

Women for Women Pitt County provided funding for activity kits and manuals for project participants while Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation and the Department of Kinesiology have provided additional support for the project.


At right, Dr. Deirdre Dlugonski in the ECU Department of Kinesiology is helping mothers and daughters become more active together through a 12-week research study and exercise class.

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