Funding: Heart and Stroke Grant enables researchers to study the effect of exercise on the brain

How might high-intensity exercise influence brain power? A team of researchers at Western University is aiming to find out.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Dr. Rob Petrella, Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and a team from the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine will be initiating a community-based exercise program combining high-intensity exercise with mind-motor training with the goal of looking for ways to improve cardiovascular health and cognitive function.

The research project, called The Heart & Mind Study, will focus on older adults with hypertension and cognitive decline.  With an increasing number of Canadians developing dementia, treatment options continue to be limited.

“Exercise, unlike many drugs, has shown promise to prevent or decrease both hypertension and dementia,” said Dr. Petrella. “Previous studies have shown that older adults with a subjective cognitive complaint but no clinical evidence of dementia may be an ideal target for preventive interventions.”

The team is focusing specifically on high-intensity interval training which requires subjects to exercise at very high levels but for short durations. This type of exercise has been shown to achieve more benefits than traditional training.

PhD Candidate Narlon Boa Sorte Silva from the Faculty of Health Sciences will be working on the study as part of this interdisciplinary team. “The administration of high-intensity interval training in The Heart & Mind Study could lead to very unique findings, as few studies to date have considered exercise intensity in their protocols,” he said. “We are hopeful that our findings will indicate measurable improvements in memory and overall cognition and that these improvements will be coupled with significant reduction in blood pressure.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation grant provides $236,000 over three years for the Heart and Mind Study.

“We are extremely grateful to receive funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada,” said Dawn Gill, PhD, co-investigator on the study. “With this funding we aim to positively impact the health of older Canadians at increased risk for dementia and to reduce burden on the Canadian health care system.”