Graduate Student Wins Funding for Research on Exercise, Memory

Shuo Qin

Shuo Qin will use Fitbits to monitor physical activity and sleep patterns in a group of healthy older adults to analyze how fitness may enhance memory performance.

A neuroscience doctoral student in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences has been awarded a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada to study the impact of physical fitness on memory in older adults.

Shuo Qin is a member of Dr. Chandramallika Basak’s Lifespan Neuroscience and Cognition lab, part of UT Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity (CVL). She will use the popular Fitbit fitness-tracking device to monitor physical activity and sleep patterns in a group of healthy older adults to analyze how fitness may enhance memory performance. Additional measures of physical fitness also will be assessed.

While participants — who range from 60 to 80 years of age — will not be prescribed a specific exercise regimen, Qin said data from the devices will be downloaded and scrutinized individually against memory tests done in the lab. Researchers in Basak’s group hope to determine which fitness activities — when controlled for other factors such as sleep — might lend themselves to enhanced cognitive vitality.

Participants are expected to roughly fall into two groups: high-fit and low-fit. The high-fit older adults are those who tend to walk every evening or lead a more active lifestyle. Low-fit adults might depend on cars for most of their errands and may not take many steps each day. Gauging memory performance among these groups should yield some interesting results, Qin said.

Qin is designing the study to also test age-related differences in both verbal and visual working memory in the same group of participants.

Rapid decreases in hippocampal volumes are associated with memory deficits in older adults. While it has been suggested that an active lifestyle and good sleep may boost visuospatial memory and preserve hippocampal volume in healthy older adults, more evidence is needed before a causal link can be determined, the researchers say.

The two-year funding from NSERC will allow Qin — a Fitbit wearer herself — to further work in this field and arrive at publishable findings that may lead to larger studies of healthy Fitbit-wearing older adults.

“I was glad to get the (funding) news after having worked very hard on the application,” Qin said. “I want to thank the NSERC for this great opportunity and my advisor Dr. Basak for her help and support during the application process.”

“I am very proud of Shuo’s achievements — she is most deserving of NSERC’s recognition,” Basak said.

NSERC is Canada’s flagship government science agency — equivalent to the National Science Foundation in the United States — which provides grants for research in the natural sciences and in engineering, with a mandate to promote and assist research across North America.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

Tagged: BBS research