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Smart Movements (SMART)


SMARTmovements is a collaboration between, and led by, staff from the Center of Human Movement Sciences. The research programme SMARTmovements was formally established and joined SHARE in December 2012. Prior to this point researchers within the Center for Human Movement Sciences were members of various research programmes within BCN and SHARE. 

Programme Leaders   Mission and Description of the Programme  

The research programme SMARTmovements adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the scientific study of human movement and its effect on functioning, health, societal participation and quality of life.

The aim of SMARTmovements is to conduct high-level scientific research to 1) develop fundamental theory and knowledge in the human movement sciences, 2) improve understanding of fundamental concepts in the separate applied fields of human movement sciences, 3) provide the foundation for a high quality teaching programme committed to the education and training of the next generation of human movement scientists and professionals, and finally 4) contribute to society through innovation of delivery and practice, and technical innovations in the medical, behavioural and sport sciences.

Description of the Programme
Research within SMARTmovements is dedicated to the scientific study of human motor behaviour and its optimisation throughout the lifespan. Motor behaviour is viewed as the output of an on-going interaction between perceptual, cognitive and motor processes, and the social, technical and physical context in which they occur. Methods originating from the behavioural sciences, physics, physiology and neurosciences create an inter/multidisciplinary approach. The fundamental goal of SMARTmovements is to understand the physical and psychological processes underpinning human movement and how processes such as motor learning, development, training, ageing, and recovery affect the neuromotor system throughout the entire lifespan. This knowledge is pursued in relation to (and intends to contribute to) healthy ageing, sports performance, and rehabilitation, in order to enhance and optimise human movement, functioning, health, participation and quality of life throughout every stage of the lifespan.

This multidisciplinary approach is studied in a variety of individuals focusing on typical development and ageing, to special populations such as those with motor and cognitive disorders, injury or trauma, and (elite level (disabled)) athletes. A number of different scientific approaches are employed including biomechanics, neuromechanics, anatomy, physiology, (neuro)psychology, motor control, pathology and epidemiology. SMARTmovements researchers study a broad repertoire of motor activities, including but not limited to physical activity, gait, balance and stability, manual dexterity, sport competition, individual sporting actions, and wheeled mobility.

The Research within SMARTmovements focuses on five key themes: the perceptual-motor mechanisms underpinning gait, balance and fall prevention;  the influence of physical activity on cognition, and physical and mental fitness; characteristics of performance and expertise; optimisation of performance and functional recovery; and motor learning, development and neuromuscular control of perceptual motor skills. These five themes form the central topics that run across each of three research groups:

Motor Function, Cognition and Healthy Ageing

Focuses on understanding the psychological, physiological and social consequences of movement, in particular the relationship between movement, lifestyle, and the physical and mental condition and resilience of elderly people.

Rehabilitation and Functional Recovery

Focuses on understanding and effectiveness of diagnosis, treatment, assessment and adaptive technologies, in children and adults with impairments that hinder normal motor and day-to-day functioning.

Sport, learning and performance

Focuses on the relationship between physical and cognitive aspects of motor learning and performance in recreational and professional sports, and how these can be adapted to optimise performance.

Relevance to Healthy Ageing  

Beyond the simple enjoyment of sport and leisure physical activity, a sufficient amount of physical activity, sports and exercise can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, hypertension, cancer, musculoskeletal diseases, and psychological disorders. Physical activity can play a key role in counteracting weight gain and obesity, a major challenge to successful ageing and public health. Regular physical activity can also improve school children’s academic performance, productivity at work, prevent secondary impairments in persons with disability and slow cognitive decline in old age. There is thus overwhelming evidence that physical activity, exercise, and sport play a key and perhaps preventative role in the evolution of chronic diseases. It is therefore highly relevant to understand the physiological, neural, cognitive, and biomechanical mechanisms of how children, adults, or old individuals with and without disability acquire motor skills, control movement, improve functioning, adapt to increased or decreased levels of physical activity, and exercise programs. Such an increased understanding of the relationship between human movement, functioning and health is highly relevant to healthy ageing.

Two examples of SMART’s research projects   

Low-intensity hand rim wheelchair practice and its effect on motor control and coordination
Researcher: Riemer Vegter

The efficiency and effectiveness of cyclic upper extremity exervise and more specifically wheelchair propulsion has been studied in relation to ergonomic factors such as seat height, or rim radius. This was also done in relation to propulsion technique factors such as push time, stroke length or recovery technique. These studies have generally been performed from a physiological or biomechanical perspective. Only very few studies have included co-coordinative parameters from inter- and intralimb coordination during wheelchair propulsion. For motor learning there appears to be evidence of a relationship between economic costst and kinematic stability, however little is known about how and what kind of adaptations occur as a consequence of a specific practice programme. The effects of a practice on mechanical loading of the upper extremities and underlying changes in coordination and efficency due to practice will be evaluated in this project.


The effect of physically active education lessons on numeracy and literacy skills
Researchers: Marck de Greeff and Marijke Mullender-Wijnsma

At eighteen primary schools we conduct research into the effect of combining physical activities and numeracy and literacy tasks in a normal classroom setting. The possible effects these physically active lessons have on academic performance and other cognitive skills as well as the fitness of school children are investigated. The project is specifically aimed at children with a social disadvantage, because of their educational deficiency. In the United States such an appoach has already led to success. This research concerns an experiment monitoring children for three years and taking measurements annually. Schools in the Northern part of the Netherlands with a total of eighteen annual groups (groups 4 and 5) have joined in. Every school provides an experimental and a control group. It is expected that the programme, which is carried out three times a week, will lead to a heightened alertness and a better focus on the task at hand during and immediately after the physically active education lesson. The physical activity can lead to a better fitness in the long run, but also to improved academic performance as a result of physiological changes in the brain.

Principal Investigators / nr of PhD students