Nutrition, Exercise and Brain Health

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Regular physical exercise promotes cognition in aging, yet the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. One hypothesis suggests that physical activity in older adults may preserve youth-like neural structure and function. However, these studies have been unable to convincingly link neural preservation in advancing age with the cognitive benefits of physical activity. The present study reveals a novel mechanism whereby physical exercise does not preserve youthful-like brain function but rather facilitates functional reorganization of neural network processing to accommodate the infrastructure of an aging neural system. The results suggest that physical exercise acts as a catalyst for change by increasing the fundamental components for neuroplasticity. For older adults, the reorganization of brain processing may be difficult to achieve without the promotion of neuroplasticity through external factors such as physical activity. Consequently, older adults who lack the necessary supplements for plasticity will continue to process information as they did prior to age-related neural degeneration, even if that way has become suboptimal. This research is an important first step in elucidating the mechanisms through which physical exercise changes the brain to promote cognition. Future research may reveal possible synergistic effects of combining exercise and nutrition regimens in the promotion of brain dynamics in aging. The ultimate goal of this work is to inform prescriptions for exercise to keep the growing aging population both physically and mentally healthier for longer.

Jennifer J. Heisz, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Kinesiology
McMaster University

Dr. Jennifer J. Heisz is an Assistant Professor in Kinesiology and Associate Director (Seniors) of the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence at McMaster University. Dr. Heisz received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience (McMaster) and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. Dr. Heisz directs the NeuroFit Lab ( which is funded by the Alzheimer Society, Banting Foundation, Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Dr. Heisz's research examines the effects of physical activity on brain function to promote mental health and cognition in young adults, older adults and individuals with Alzheimer's disease. Recent honours include receiving an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Research Coalition. Follow Dr. Heisz on twitter @jenniferheisz.

***Original Source: "2016 CNS Annual Conference", Friday May 6, 2016

Length: 26:56

Type: Video

Last Updated: May 30, 2016

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Nutrition, Exercise and Brain Health Video
Neural complexity, exercise and cognitive function File
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