The vibrant, diverse brain health community at Illinois is working to find solutions to some of today’s most pressing societal health challenges in fields including aging; learning, memory and plasticity; nutrition and cognition; neuroengineering; neuro-and socio-genomics; bioinformatics; and more. More than 300 faculty and staff on the Urbana-Champaign campus identify as researchers in the brain health space—regardless of their home department affiliation. These researchers are using leading-edge imaging tools, pioneering studies that progress from the lab to clinical applications with the goal of improving the health and lives of people everywhere.
Neha Gothe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health & Beckman Institute
Professor Neha Gothe’s expertise is in conducting social cognitive theory-based exercise interventions to promote physical activity and assess cognitive aging. Her research agenda has focused on developing randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to promote physical activity engagement, including non-traditional modes such as yoga, with the goal of improving health and quality of life outcomes. Prof. Gothe directs the Exercise Psychology Lab in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health and has collaborations across campus with faculty at the Beckman Institute, Department of Psychology, and Illinois Athletics.
Explain your research in neuroscience; what are you investigating?
My research explores the bio-psycho-social health benefits of physical activity across the lifespan. My projects aim at 1) understanding determinants of physical activity behavior, 2) promoting physical activity among sedentary populations and 3) examining the underlying physiological changes and psychological health benefits of engaging in physical activity. My specific research interest is in examining the cognitive benefits of engaging in exercise, specifically mind-body practices such as yoga.
How are you currently conducting your research?
Currently, I am conducting a randomized controlled trial called “STAY Fit – Stretching, Aerobic walking and Yoga for cancer survivors” that aims to study the effects of these exercise modalities on cognitive function and cancer-related cognitive impairment. This study is funded by the U of I Campus Research Board and will conclude in May 2020. We are actively recruiting and inviting cancer survivors between 30-70 years of age to participate in 12-weeks of exercise. I am also working with Drs. Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton–faculty in the Department of Psychology and Beckman Institute–on an NIH funded (NIA-R01) longitudinal study titled “Optical Measures of Cerebral Arterial Function as Predictors of Brain and Cognitive Aging.” Finally, I am working with Illinois Athletics to determine the efficacy of yoga practice for student-athletes at Illinois. We just concluded data collection with a group of student-athletes and are reviewing the results to determine the next steps. You will find more information on our lab page: epl.illinois.edu and Facebook page: facebook.com/ExPsychLab/
How does being part of the broader Illinois research community support and enhance your work?
Within a couple of years of my arrival at Illinois, I have made connections with a number of faculty across different departments and colleges including the departments of dance and psychology, the School of Social Work, Illinois Athletics, and of course, the Beckman Institute. My work has morphed into being truly interdisciplinary and all my on-going projects involve an expert faculty from at least one other unit on campus who complements and strengthens my research. The events organized by the IHSI’s Brain Health Program Area have been a great resource to connect with faculty across our campus.
In what ways do you envision your work improving society or reaching people?
Exercise is medicine! Most people will agree to the health benefits of exercise, but the harder part is to engage in the behavior regularly. Part of my research is trying to identify the barriers and challenges that people face and get them to adopt an active lifestyle. In doing so, we can not only help them improve their physical health, but also their mental health (and cognition/brain health). It is certainly rewarding when our research participants share their successes and ways in which our exercise programs benefit them.
What led to your interest in this area of study?
I was an athlete myself and played tennis in India. I was exposed to yoga at a very young age as part of PE in schools. As I worked through college, I took an interest in psychology and decided to pursue academic training and conduct research in the area of exercise psychology.