Modifying the risk - The effects of exercise and diet on the ageing brain

Presenter: Dr Greg Kennedy, Swinburne University

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About the presentation

Due to their age, and often increasing general health concerns, independently living older Australians have a high risk of accelerated cognitive decline, with an associated greater chance of progression to dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive impairment is one of the primary reasons for progression from independent living to nursing home/aged care admission

Converging research suggests that regular physical activity and a Mediterranean-style diet (MedDiet) may reduce the risk of accelerated cognitive decline by targeting modifiable risk factors. The 2019 World Health Organisation guidelines for “Risk Reduction of Cognitive Decline and Dementia,” prioritises the need to target known modifiable risk factors, with exercise and MedDiet highlighted as interventions with high potential for success. Our team of researchers was recently awarded NHMRC funding to conduct a large-scale clinical trial across independent living retirement communities in Victoria and South Australia. Commencing in 2021, the MedWalk trial is currently investigating the effects of a MedDiet and walking intervention on cognitive decline in independently living older Australians.

This presentation will examine cognitive decline in older age and some of the lifestyle factors that may help reduce the rate at which this occurs, as well as potentially reducing the risk of dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, I will discuss the findings of our previous clinical trial of exercise and diet, the LIILAC trial, and our current work on the world leading MedWalk trial.

About the presenter

Dr Greg Kennedy is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the area of Neurocognitive Ageing at Swinburne University’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology. His research is predominantly in the area of cardiovascular functionality, health and exercise, and the influence these have on cognitive ageing. He also collaborates with other research groups investigating the cognitive effects of hearing augmentation and polyphenols.

He implemented and ran the LIILAC exercise and diet clinical trial, which produced pilot data for the successful $1.8M NHMRC Dementia Prevention grant to conduct the MedWalk trial. Greg now manages this large clinical trial, which is investigating the potential for Mediterranean diet and increased exercise to reduce cognitive decline and dementia risk in older Australians. 

Greg was the winner of the 2018 Alzheimer Award for his paper “How Does Exercise Reduce the Rate of Age-Associated Cognitive Decline? A Review of Potential Mechanisms “(J Alzheimer’s Dis 55, 1-18, 2017), This paper examined a number of pathways, such as cardiovascular health, BDNF production, insulin sensitivity, stress, and inflammation, via which exercise may maintain or improve cognitive functioning as people age. He was the first student, as well as the first person in the southern hemisphere, to win this prestigious award.

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