The work of UW-Madison’s Jill Barnes was recently featured in the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) “Spotlight on Research.”
The report is headlined, “Vascular dementia: Exercise, blood flow and the aging brain.” The release of the story was timed to help draw attention to Brain Awareness Week, March 13-19.
Barnes, an assistant professor with the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology
, heads the Barnes Lab within the Bruno Balke Biodynamics Laboratory
, where she investigates potential risk factors for both cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia; its leading cause is strokes. The risk factors for vascular dementia and strokes are very similar to those of heart disease, namely aging and lack of physical activity.
However, although recommending physical activity always seems like the right choice, in the article Barnes warns this “could be reckless because we do not yet know what kind of physical activity is optimal for those patients and there are important safety concerns."
The next step for researchers is to attempt to discover how
exercise improves cognitive function in the case of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. This knowledge will help in devising prevention strategies, and “if we know the mechanism by which exercise improves blood flow to the brain, we may be able to mimic how that works even for people who cannot exercise safely,” said Barnes.