The relation of fitness to brain health, cognition, and scholastic achievement
Charles H. Hillman, PhD
Departments of Kinesiology and Community Health, Psychology, and Internal Medicine
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Host: Boris I. Prilutsky, PhD
Time: 12:00 - 1:00pm
Location: Applied Physiology Building (555 14th Street NW), Room 1253
There is a growing public health burden of inactivity among children of industrialized nations. In recent years, children have become increasingly inactive, leading to concomitant increases in the prevalence of being overweight and unfit. Inactivity during childhood often tracks throughout life and has implications for the prevalence of several chronic diseases during adulthood. Of further interest is the absence of public health concern for the effect of physical inactivity on brain health and cognition. It is curious that this has not emerged as a larger societal issue, given its obvious relation to childhood obesity and other inactivity-related disorders that have captured public attention. Further, many school districts have minimized or obviated physical activity opportunities from the school day despite a growing literature indicating the benefits of physical activity to cognitive health and learning. Such educational practices are growing in popularity due to budgetary constraints and an increased emphasis placed upon student performance on standardized tests. For more than a decade, my research program has examined the relation of physical activity to cognitive and brain health across the human lifespan, with particular interest in preadolescent childhood. My techniques of investigation involve a combination of neuroimaging (i.e., electroencephalography [EEG], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]), behavioral assessments, and scholastic achievement in an effort to translate basic laboratory findings into everyday life. Central to this translational approach to science is the identification of etiological substrates of brain regions and networks that are changed via physical activity. As such, the overarching goal of my research is to determine factors that improve cognition, maximize health and well-being, and promote the effective functioning of individuals as they progress through the lifespan.
In this presentation, I intend to describe a program of research that utilizes correlational and longitudinal designs to investigate lifestyle factors such as cardiorespiratory fitness and central adiposity on neuroimaging, behavioral, and scholastic achievement measures in preadolescent children. Findings from these studies have indicated that greater aerobic fitness is positively related to brain structure and function, as well as better task performance and achievement. Alternatively, central adiposity appears negatively related to brain function, behavior, and achievement. Such findings are timely and important for public health concerns related to chronic disease prevention as a function of childhood inactivity and obesity. These findings link these pervasive societal concerns with brain health and cognition, and have implications for the educational environment and the context of learning.