University of Vermont

University Communications

Symposium: The Brainy Side of Exercise

runners on treadmills
A day of lectures, posters and panels will make the case for going that extra mile--to aid your brain.

Many people exercise to tone their muscles, fit into their favorite jeans, or fight diseases like diabetes. “But few of us know that exercise has a hidden benefit not readily assessed by visual inspection in a mirror, by a blood pressure cuff or a glucose meter,” says UVM Professor Victor May.

“Exercise is good for our brain,” he says — it can help reduce stress, improve learning, and fend off depression and anxiety.

“Who knew that, instead of Sudoku or crossword puzzles, a spritely 15 or 30 minute walk can better sharpen our memory and mind?” says May. “And there are likely a wealth of other hidden benefits of exercise to our brain during nervous system development and aging that are just coming to light.”

 But exactly how does exercise benefit brain health?

Answering this challenging question is an accelerating field in neuroscience. To highlight current advancements, the University of Vermont will bring four leading experts to campus for a day-long series of lectures and discussions.

The 2012 Macmillan Symposium, “The Brainy Side of Exercise: Benefits to Neurons, Mind and Behavior,” will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, March 26 in the Grand Maple Ballroom, at UVM’s Davis Center.

The event is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is required to plan for seating.


Registration and coffee begin at 8:00 a.m., followed by opening remarks from UVM interim president John Bramley at 8:50 a.m.

The symposium will feature four keynote lectures:

9 a.m. - Art Kramer,  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "Exercising your Mind and Brain." 

10 a.m. - Henriette van Praag, National Institute on Aging, "Adult hippocampal  neurogenesis: the role of exercise." 

11 a.m. - Monika Fleshner, University of Colorado at Boulder, "Exercise, stress, and resilience:  Benefits for mental and physical health." 

1:30 p.m. - Rod Dishman, University of Georgia, "Exercise, Brain, and Behavior: Culture to Genes."

At 2:30, a panel discussion will be held until 3:30, followed by a reception.

The challenge of mechanism

Sponsored by UVM’s Neuroscience, Behavior & Health (NBH) Initiative, the symposium’s organizing committee notes that, “studies suggest that promoting exercise is an inexpensive intervention that has far reaching applications in preventing and treating mental health disorders and neurodegenerative disease.”

But, “identifying precisely how exercise affects the nervous system — for example, how does it change neural function? — has been a quite challenge,” notes William Falls, Chair of UVM’s Psychology Department.

“Perhaps it is the very fact that exercise is so universally beneficial (benefiting many if not all systems in the body),” he says, “that has resulted in the difficulty in uncovering the mechanisms through which it exerts its effects on cognitive and emotional health.”

The four keynote lecturers in the symposium have been at the forefront of those who have begun to tease out these mechanisms. “Indeed, it may be argued that they helped to create this exciting new sub-field of neuroscience,” Falls says.

More information

The William H. and Anne S. Macmillan Endowment was established in 1998 to "broaden our understanding of the physical and natural sciences, their relationship to each other and to other academic disciplines, and to help continue the academy’s efforts to close the gap between the sciences and the rest of the academic community.”

With support from the endowment, this symposium has been organized by UVM Professors Hugh Garavan, Sharon Henry, Jeremy Sibold, and Victor May.

“By learning how physical exercise benefits brain development and function,” May says, “we have an added rationale to run that extra mile.”

For more information or to register please visit: