ENHANCING THE BODY TO ENHANCE THE BRAIN

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SWEAT SO YOU DON'T FORGET!

Classrooms and educational settings overall have become the most sedentary part of a university student's day.  However, the human organism has evolved to benefit from physical activity - not just for physical health, but also for brain health and function.  Our recent work showed that incorporating a few 5min physical activity breaks during a 50min online university lecture significantly improved on-task attention and learning.  We are working to unpack the optimal intensity, type and duration of physical activity breaks for ultimate implementation within the university classroom.

Fenesi, B., Lucibello, K., Kim, J. A., & Heisz, J. J. (2018). Sweat So You Don’t Forget: Exercise Breaks During a University Lecture Increase On-Task Attention and Learning. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

USING EXERCISE TO IMPROVE COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING IN CHILDREN WITH ADHD

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder that affects many facets of a child’s life, most notably interfering with school success.  Although stimulant medications improve some of the core symptoms of ADHD (i.e., disruptive behaviours), many have deleterious side effects.  There is critical need for behavioural interventions that could supplement prescribed medications to reduce doses and have positive enduring effects.  Two types of behavioural interventions are physical activity and mindfulness meditation. 

 

Our recent work showed that children with ADHD exhibit increased performance on multiple tasks of executive functioning following just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. Additionally, following 10 minutes of exercise, participants showed increased mood and self-efficacy. 

Bigelow, H., Gottlieb, M. D., Ogrodnik, M., Graham, J. D., & Fenesi, B. (2021). The Differential Impact of Acute Exercise and Mindfulness Meditation on Executive Functioning and Psycho-Emotional Well-Being in Children and Youth With ADHD. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 660845. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.660845

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USING NEUROIMAGING TO CONNECT BODY AND BRAIN RESEARCH

We use functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRs - https://nirx.net) to examine how physical activity impacts brain function.  Specifically, we are interested in understanding how physical activity impacts the prefrontal cortex - the control centre of the brain implicated in attention, memory and learning. Understanding the mechanism underlying the body-brain connection will help offer targeted guidelines for how physical activity should be incorporated into the school day as well as into daily activities to reap optimal cognitive (and physical) health benefits.

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