Research in Action: Department Chair Demonstrates the Importance of Physical Activity

Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, MS, the Sanofi Professor of Prevention and Wellness and chair of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Milken Institute School of Public Health, rises before the sun most mornings. In the late fall and winter, she laces up her running shoes to train for a springtime marathon – she recently ran the Boston Marathon, which she has completed several times before. In the spring and summer, she heads down to the Potomac River to train for the fall Head of the Charles regatta – the largest international rowing race. For Sacheck, making time in her day to be physically active is non-negotiable.

Jennifer Sacheck and her children, Tess and Austin

“I enjoy the fun of exercise and competition, but it’s also a stress release,” Sacheck said. “It helps me be a good role model and stay strong at home and at work.”

Sacheck, who describes physical activity as a foundation for her health and happiness, researches the importance of exercise, too. A nationally recognized expert in nutrition and physical activity, Sacheck’s research has a special focus on keeping children fit and healthy. She’s currently assessing physical activity among underserved schoolchildren in Washington, D.C. and is researching more broadly across multiple states how to improve children’s physical literacy. The study, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is looking at how enhancing children’s motivation and confidence for movement at a young age can increase physical activity and reduce health disparities regardless of their gender, weight status or race/ethnicity.

“We’re helping children develop fundamental movement skills so they feel confident as they grow up,” Sacheck said.

Her past research includes conducting large intervention trials to determine the impact of innovative physical activity programs on increasing physical activity and academic achievement among lower-income schoolchildren. Other research has included the impact of diet and specific nutrients on cardiometabolic risk and other health outcomes in at-risk children and youth. Her research on the intersection of nutrition, physical activity and health promotion is has been widely published in academic journals and in reports for the lay public.

Sacheck’s passion for physical activity began in early elementary school where she competed in track and field, had parents that promoted her involvement in different sports across the school year as she grew up, and ultimately in high school she discovered rowing. The passion for rowing led to a full athletic scholarship to Syracuse University, where she served as team captain and was inducted into the university’s Rowing Hall of Fame.

A mother of three, Sacheck leads by example, often exercising with her children, who participate in lacrosse, soccer, swimming, among other activities.

“For me, being a working mom and having a job I take seriously, I think prioritizing activity in your day not only impacts your physical and cognitive health, but also your overall emotional well-being,” Sacheck said.

For more information about Sacheck’s research, click here.