My research focuses on the intermediate role of physical activity in moderating how stress has ill effects on health. Psychosocial stress is thought to have been paired with physical activity throughout mammalian and human evolution.
My dissertation will utilize a mixed methods approach to investigate how physical activity moderates the associations between psychosocial stress and inflammation in UW undergraduate students. Through purposively recruiting half my sample will be (~100 students) from NCAA sports participants and half from general college student population. This research design will allow studying psychosocial stress in a context where stress is largely decoupled from changes in physical activity. NCAA sports participants report comparable or higher levels of psychosocial stress exposure to those not participating in NCAA sports, but NCAA participants maintain moderate- to high-levels of physical activity throughout childhood and into young adulthood, despite psychosocial stress exposure. Further, the sports teams I will focus on, American football and Track and Field, are over-representative of students of color and marginalized communities in the US, which will allow me to begin tying in questions of systemic oppression and racism.
My pilot project will center on qualitative interviews that will be used to improve the research design and hypotheses for my larger project and provide data for an in-depth analysis in my overall dissertation project. Further, this pilot work will allow me to more directly test the feasibility of my data collection and laboratory methods for a much larger sample (N=200). Since many sports, particularly those creating revenue for universities (i.e. American football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball), are over-represented by students of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, understanding how psychosocial stress impacts human biology in these circumstances will be critical in ensuring these programs do not reinforce and reify patterns of health inequities in the US. A related goal of my pilot work will be to recruit undergraduates of color and undergraduates belonging to groups traditionally under-represented in higher education and STEM to take the lead on building hypotheses, conducting analyses, and interpreting findings related to the effects of racism and discrimination on biology. My dissertation will hopefully provide a wealth of both qualitative and quantitative data for undergraduates to utilize for their own projects, and an exploration of psychosocial stress in these communities would be incomplete without a critical examination of racism and discrimination led by members of those communities.