University of South Carolina

Spreading the word about good health

By Jeff Stensland, stenslan@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3686

If fitness were a religion, Brian Parr would be an evangelist seeking new converts. Parr, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken, is a fervent believer in spreading the word about the latest in health science, and not just in the classroom.

“I’ll talk about it to anyone who’ll listen, and even some people who don’t want to listen,” he said.

For Parr, a Michigan native who once thought his future would be spent toiling away in a lab, his role as professor and community educator is a true labor of love.

In addition to teaching classes, he writes a weekly column for the Aiken Standard called “Brian Parr’s Health and Fitness,” where he weighs on the latest health and nutrition trends and myths and puts scientific research into context. He also addresses topics in the news, such as the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. He’s also a prolific blogger, both on his own site and as a contributor to others, and is a guest speaker for local community groups.

Parr’s interest in exercise and sports science came about as a happy accident. A biology major as an undergraduate, Parr had scrapped his original goal of attending medical school but was unsure about what to pursue next. Family friends suggested he consider enrolling in the exercise science program at Central Michigan University where they worked.

“I decided to give it try. From the very first class I took it just clicked and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” he said.

He also discovered a knack for teaching, which makes sense since both his parents were educators. He came to USC Aiken in 2001, drawn by its reputation for teaching and classroom engagement.

“A long time ago I understood I was not going to make my mark as a researcher,” he said. “I was always was better at was explaining the research. The professor I always liked could that, and they were also accessible and interesting people outside of the classroom. That’s what I’ve tried to do and that’s what USC Aiken is about.”

Parr’s foray into media began when he submitted some op-eds to the Aiken Standard. “I sent a couple of articles in and then they ran one of them. I got a call later and they said ‘can you send one next week? You have a column now.’”

Since then, he’s been a quoted source in national and international publications and stepped up his contributions to blogs, such as Lifehacker.com. Recent topics include how to stay fit while working at your desk, the benefits of "recess" for adults and deflating common weight loss myths. His goal is to demystify health science so the average consumer can know what it really means—and doesn’t mean. “Most people just don’t understand this stuff, and it can be confusing even for professionals,” he said.

Chris DeWitt, chair of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science, said Parr’s desire to share messages to a general audience fits well with USC Aiken’s mission. “It’s all important that we faculty members also serve as a role models and share information about physical activity, exercise, and nutrition by communicating with the general public,” he said.

For Parr, his outside writing and speaking engagements are directly connected to his work with students because it forces him to stay up to speed on the latest health research and news. “It takes a lot time, but I do enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t ever want my students to think I know everything and don’t have to think about new ideas anymore. They need to see that I’m engaged in this stuff.”

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Posted: 07/08/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 07/08/13 @ 10:19 AM | Permalink