If you listen to music when you exercise, does hip-hop rock your workout better than country or classical? Do the beats per minute make any difference? Zachary Cole aims to answer those questions.

His fellow undergraduate, Lexi McCullough, has been measuring the impact that a female college student’s family has on her physical fitness.

Lexi McCullough and Zachary Cole

Neither had planned to study physical education, much less to become researchers before they earned their bachelor’s degrees.  But both are winning praise for their work in PE — also known as kinesiology — at Washington State University.

Zach, a senior from Tumwater, Washington, arrived on the Pullman campus planning to become an engineer. When that field didn’t flip his switch, he tried pharmacy for awhile.  Ultimately, he says, his exercise habits led him to the WSU College of Education’s movement studies program. “I liked weight lifting, and that lead to personal training, and that led to kinesiology.”

Zach has received a $1,000 Auvil Scholars Fellowship to continue a study that also involves student researchers Richard Swihart (who started the study), Jeff Boice and recent graduate Kyle Mendes. The work they’ve done so far suggests that tempo and beat, regardless of music genre, do influence performance during exercise. They want to ramp up their research with a study involving runners who can choose what kind of music they listen to. The Auvil money will go toward such expenses as purchase of audio equipment and publication/conference costs.

Zach has created a poster reviewing the literature of research into the relationship between earphone music and running.  He presented it at October’s annual meeting of the Western Society for Kinesiology and Wellness (WSKW) in Reno. The poster’s “amazing graphic” drew lots of attention, says Professor Larry Bruya. Both Zach and Lexi are his teaching assistants, and both attended the WSKW conference, where they were courted by graduate program researchers who wanted to recruit them.

Zach does have his eye on graduate school and, possibly, an academic career. Lexi wants to be a physical therapist.

A senior from Randle, Washington, Lexi started out as a neuroscience major. When she switched to movement studies, she began researching different mood states in 37 Alpha Delta Pi sorority members. She also gathered information on the women’s family history of physical activity and fitness. She learned that not only are physically active college students happier, but those who are more active in college came from families that value fitness or are physically active.

Her paper on the subject was one of 27 (out of 100) accepted for presentation at the WSKW conference, where it won a 2010 R.D. Peavey Excellence in Writing Award. When asked by a professor at the conference why she studied women, Lexi replied: “Because I am one, and because most of the literature is about males. We know too little about females.”