Newswise — ACSM recently announced the 2020 Paper of the Year for each of ACSM’s five highly acclaimed journals. The selection for this award, now in its second year with the American College of Sports Medicine, was made by the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, who received nominations from the associate editors of the journal. Each associate editor was instructed to consider the following criteria when making nominations: article impact and/or research significance and/or conceptual design and/or technical innovation.

The 2020 Paper of the Year selections for each of the journals are: 

  • Promoting Physical Activity for Mental Well-Being by Stephanie L. Cooper, Ph.D., ACSM-CEP published in the May/June 2020 issue of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal®. Numerous studies have indicated that incorporating regular physical activity into one’s life can enhance mental health and reduce the risk of experiencing psychological distress. Although there is ample evidence to support the beneficial effects of physical activity on psychological outcomes, there tends to be an emphasis on how physical activity can enhance physical health and aid in the prevention of chronic disease. It can be argued that impact of physical activity on physical and psychological well-being are equally important to understand to address a more holistic approach to well-being. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent reductions in lifespan expectancy in the U.S. were in part due to individuals experiencing severe psychological disturbances that led to suicide; highlighting the need for accessible and effective strategies to mitigate psychological distress. Since COVID-19 has evolved, interest in better understanding the effects of physical activity on well-being has grown and led the more people to seek information on the topic
  • Making A Strong Case for Prioritizing Muscular Fitness in Youth Physical Activity Guidelines by Avery D. Faigenbaum, Ed.D., FACSM; James P. MacDonald, M.D., FACSM; Andrea Stracciolini, M.D., FAAP, FACSM; and Tamara Rial Rebullido, Ph.D.; published in the December 2020 of Current Sports Medicine Reports. Public health guidelines have long recommended that kids accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily through aerobic activities like biking or jogging. A paradigm shift in prescribed guidelines is needed to address the growing prevalence of youth physical inactivity. This paper calls for the necessary change: a strong endorsement of age-appropriate resistance training in current and future guidelines. Kids need strong muscles to jump, kick, throw and run – movement skills that are fundamental for active play. Acquired strength deficits must be identified early in life to better prepare kids for the physical demands of exercise and sports. Without requisite strength, kids will not reach recommended levels of physical activity. Without identifying and addressing those deficits early, children will adopt insufficiently active lifestyles. These authors recommend a new pediatric activity pyramid (PAP) which integrates the co-equal importance of strength, skill and aerobic activities. The PAP emphasizes strength-building activities, which the traditional youth physical activity pyramid relatively ignores, that will better prepare children for an active lifestyle throughout the lifespan.
  • A Time to Eat and A Time to Exercise by Evelyn B. Parr, Ph.D.; Leonie K. Heilbronn, Ph.D.; and John A. Hawley, Ph.D.; published in the January 2020 issue of Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. Our modern-day lifestyle allows ready access to food day and night. At the same time, we spend much of each day inactive, often sitting for prolonged periods. Such a lifestyle disrupts our body’s internal biological clock, predisposing many individuals to chronic metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Compliance to current diet and exercise guidelines is poor. A recent variation of a fasting diet for weight control, known as time-restricted eating (TRE, where all food is consumed within 8-10 h during waking), is associated with many positive effects on metabolic health including reductions in weight, improvements in blood pressure and better glucose control. Exercise induces multiple and similar benefits as TRE, but whether these effects are additive is not known.
  • Exercise Induces Different Molecular Responses in Trained and Untrained Human Muscle by Marcus Moberg, Ph.D.; Malene Lindholm, Ph.D.; Stefan Reitzner, Ph.D.; Björn Ekblom, M.D.; Carl-Johan Sundberg, M.D.; and Niklas Psilander, Ph.D.; published in the August 2020 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®. This study explored the hypothesis that human skeletal muscle has a molecular memory to strength training. Nineteen training naïve women and men trained one leg for 10 weeks, followed by 20 weeks of detraining. Thereafter, basal and exercise-induced gene expression and protein signaling was analyzed in the vastus lateralis muscle after an acute resistance exercise bout in both the control and the previously trained leg. Investigators found a number of phosphorylated proteins and genes differently expressed between legs, both at rest and after exercise. The data indicated that the previously trained leg had a greater oxidative capacity, as well as a greater capacity for protein synthesis and muscle remodeling. Collectively the study supports the view of a molecular muscle memory in response to training. One application from our study is there may be hope for more rapid recovery for people that must halt their training due to injury, illness, or other reasons.
  • Cognitive Testing and Exercise to Assess The Readiness to Return to Play Following A Concussion by Veronik Sicard, Ph.D.; Jean-Christophe Lortie, M.Sc.; Robert Davis Moore, Ph.D.; and Dave Ellemberg, Ph.D.; published in the Summer 2020 issue of the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. A key to preventing the long-term consequences of concussions is to ensure athletes only return to play (RTP) after being fully recovered. Active recovery is managed through a stepwise protocol that gradually introduces bouts of physical exercise. Athletes ultimately progress from non-contact training drills to full-contact practice when vigorous exercise no longer triggers post-concussion symptoms. It is also recommended that athletes complete a final cognitive assessment before being cleared to RTP. However, athletes’ cognition is typically evaluated at rest using commercial batteries with questionable reliability. Paper authors posit this approach lacks the ecological validity and sensitivity to detect deficits that may emerge following exercise similar to that experienced during play. We used our validated cognitive task (switch task) to evaluate 80 athletes (40 concussed, 40 controls) at rest and following 20 minutes of exercise at 80% to 85% of their maximum heart rate. We found that 20% of athletes who were cleared to RTP failed our cognitive task at rest. More importantly, an additional 10% failed our task following exercise. Our results highlight the importance of using reliable and challenging cognitive tasks before and after vigorous exercise to prevent the premature RTP. They also advocate the need for individualized approach to RTP assessment.

The ACSM Publications Committee established an annual Paper of the Year award in 2020 for each of ACSM’s journals to recognize the demonstrated excellence in scientific and scholarly article published during the previous year.

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About the American College of Sports Medicine

ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 50,000 international, national and regional members and certified exercise professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to improve educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine. More details can be found at


Journal Link: ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, May/June 2020 Journal Link: Current Sports Medicine Reports, Dec-2020 Journal Link: Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, January-2020 Journal Link: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Aug-2020 Journal Link: Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, Summer 2020