NIU today | NIU professors explore how aerobics and strength training improve brain function
We understand that exercise improves cardiovascular health. But recent research shows that aerobics and weight training also improve brain health and function, both in healthy adults and in people with stroke, dementia, or other cognitive impairments.
In fact, Jamie Mayer, speech-language pathologist and associate professor at the NIU School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders, says she’s discovered some surprising findings during her research over the past two years on the role of aerobic exercise in maximization of cognition.
âI think people will be surprised at how strong the link is between exercise and cognition and to learn more about the neurological links between the two,â she says. âResistance training (weight lifting) seems just as important as aerobic training, and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise actually has better results than high-intensity (and low-intensity) exercise, in terms of of cognition. The most common cognitive changes after initiating and maintaining an aerobic exercise program involve executive functions, such as problem solving and planning.
The public will have the chance to learn more about this research at the upcoming NIU STEM CafÃ© on June 16, where Mayer will be joined by Dave Benner, Jr., a gerontology instructor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education for talks. presentations and a lively discussion. .
While Mayer’s research interest stems from his background as a medical speech-language pathologist who focuses on behavioral treatment strategies to maximize cognition and communication, Benner comes from an athletic background and training in kinesiology. . He teaches the Clinical Experience in Exercise Gerontology course at the NIU, and his research focuses on balance and fall prevention, exercise equipment, and cognition in the elderly. Mayer and Benner both supervise NIU students working with seniors in clinical classrooms, allowing students to gain hands-on experience and engage with the community while advancing research in the field. .
Benner’s classes pair students majoring in kinesiology and athletic training with older adult clients at the Oak Crest Retirement Center. Students work as personal trainers or exercise coaches throughout the semester and are responsible for helping to improve the physical condition of their clients, which includes strength, balance, mobility, coordination, flexibility, cognition and prevention of falls. At the STEM CafÃ©, Benner will share experiences from this work and discuss how physical activity is directly associated with better quality of life and better brain function.
Mayer teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in neuroscience, medical speech therapy, and cognitive and communicative disorders. She founded a choir for people with dementia residing in long-term care facilities and is the supervisor of the Music and Memory program, which pairs undergraduates with people with dementia to provide personalized music and dementia. ‘other types of stimuli to encourage reminiscence. At the STEM CafÃ©, Mayer will discuss the role of aerobic exercise as well as other techniques for maximizing cognition in the elderly. She will focus in particular on the effects of social isolation on brain health and function and discuss what we can do to help minimize the social isolation of adults in long-term care facilities – particularly during COVID. .
âThe reality of COVID-19 restrictions in long-term care facilities and the way it has played out on a day-to-day basis for residents and staff is incredibly sobering,â Mayer said. “I think the neurological findings linking social isolation to cognition will encourage all of us – including healthy adults – to continue to seek new ways to connect with others, even if it has yet to be virtual for the moment. I hope attendees enjoy hearing about some of the innovative and intergenerational programs that we have tried. Perhaps they will also think of getting involved on a voluntary basis!
The STEM CafÃ© will take place online at 6 p.m. on June 16 and is free and open to the public. Register on go.niu.edu/brain.
University of Northern Illinois STIM cafes are sponsored by NIU STEAM and are designed to raise awareness of the vital role that STEM fields play in our daily lives. For more information visit go.niu.edu/niusteam or contact Judith Dymond, Ed.D., at 815-753-4751 or by email [emailÂ protected].