Lumen Scholar to continue exercise science research after graduation

Daniel Cavarretta '19 is among the recipients of the Lumen Prize, which provides selected students with a scholarship and celebrates their academic and creative accomplishments. 

Lumen scholar Daniel Cavarretta '19 poses with his research mentor, Professor of Exercise Science and Faculty Athletics Representative Eric Hall.
By Sonya Walker '19

Elon senior Daniel Cavarretta’s research is driven by a curiosity that he knows will continue even after he graduates in May. The Lumen Scholar will further his study of exercise psychology at Iowa State University as a graduate student.

Not that Cavarretta hasn’t already made great strides in his research as a recipient of the prestigious Lumen Prize. He just wants to accomplish even more.

“My research goal is ultimately to find ways to make people more physically active,” Cavarretta said. “This is a rather ambitious goal that will probably not be accomplished in my research career; let alone my time at Elon. I can only hope that by continuing the research I can help get us closer to encouraging more people to be physically active. I have many research questions and I simply cannot answer them all during my time at Elon.”

As a recipient of Elon’s Lumen Prize, Cavarretta received a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate his academic endeavors. A new cohort of Lumen Scholars is selected in the spring of each year, with the Lumen Prize now carrying with it a $20,000 scholarship.

Working closely with his mentor, Professor of Exercise Science Eric Hall, Cavarretta has focused some of his research on the gaps between the literature on acute affective responses from resistance exercise. One of the gaps concerned whether modality of resistance exercise (free weights or machines) and their influences on the affective responses.

Cavarretta found that the modality of resistance exercise does not seem to influence the affective responses. But that affective responses become less positive when people exercise to failure, or in other words, until they cannot lift anymore. Cavaretta notes that this information suggests that “it may be best for novice lifters to avoid training to failure.”

Cavarretta’s interest in promoting physical activity and weightlifting is a personal one. As a child, Cavarretta was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease and because of this he was not in the best state physically. “That’s why I started to get into weightlifting — to help change my body and get better at eating regularly,” Cavarretta said.

After graduating high school, Cavarretta earned his certification in personal training and began working for a local gym with clients. Although, after about a year of personal training, Cavarretta realized that the abnormal gym hours and lack of sleep was not sustainable. This experience, however, sparked his interest in exercise science and helping people.

“While I was in training I was getting really interested in research,” Cavarretta said. Clients would ask Cavarretta question like “I have osteoarthritis in my knee what exercises can I do for that?” He found himself conducting independent research throughout his time personal training to help find answers for his clients.

Hall has been an active mentor during his time at Elon, and said that Cavarretta has stood out in the amount he’s been able to accomplish as a Lumen Scholar. Hall has worked with Cavarretta since he was a first-year student, and connected with him because of the shared interest in motivational issues behind why people exercise, and why they don’t. “I don’t know in all my years of mentoring that I’ve had anybody who has been so intellectually curious about the field and really wants to be pushed about learning more,” Hall said.

At this point, Cavarretta has published a literature review on the acute affective responses of weight lifting in the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. He has also completed a study on affective responses from machines versus free weights and produced a manuscript that is currently under review.

“Receiving the Lumen Prize opened up lots of opportunities,” Cavarretta said. “I did not have to spend a significant amount of time applying for further research grants as my research was already funded. This gave me more time to focus on collecting data and reviewing the literature. I also was able to use the money to present our research at two national level research conferences. Without Lumen, I would not have done this.”

Though Cavarretta is concluding his Lumen Prize research, he notes that there are more research projects he has already begun working on. Cavarretta has been studying the literature focused on the effects of breast cancer survivors and has designed an experiment to investigate the acute affective and inflammatory responses to resistance exercise at different loads among breast cancer survivors.

Cavarretta is also conducting research on situational and environmental factors that influence the affective responses of weight lifting as well as other research on high-intensity interval training and the role of self-selection verses prescription exercise for optimal physiological response. Cavarretta is still recruiting participants for this study and eligible subjects can sign up here

“I want to go into research for a long-term career so my projects are never finished,” Cavarretta said. “So basically, the things that were in our [Lumen] proposal are pretty much tucked into the bed. But because I want to go the research route, there are like five other things we are doing right now.”