Brain & Body Fitness: Empowering Communities Through Brain Health Education and Support

Image has headshot of Brain & Body Fitness program coordinator Ericka Davis on the right half and text that reads "Brain & Body Fitness" in large red font with "A program designed to empower communities is reaching towards more horizons with new program coordinator Ericka Davis" in smaller black font below it on the left side of the image.

Built from a passion for empowering community members to learn more about and promote their brain health, the Gilmore-Bykovskyi Research Team and the Madison School & Community Recreation (MSRC) have been partnering since 2019 to offer the Brain & Body Fitness program. Through the program, older adults gain access to education and hands-on tools for strengthening both physical and mental wellbeing.

While the program has grown and served as an important vehicle for outreach during its lifetime, Dr. Gilmore-Bykovskyi and new Brain & Body Fitness program coordinator Ericka Davis hope to facilitate the expansion of the program throughout the Madison community and surrounding areas, working in tandem with local community partners.

Brain & Body Fitness has been operating remotely since the beginning of the pandemic, however, Davis said this has not stopped turnout or interest in the program — in fact, the most recent session was one of the biggest turnouts the program has seen.

The Gilmore-Bykovskyi lab collaborates with MSCR to deliver the physical exercise portion of the program, which emphasizes exercises that address strength, flexibility, and balance. Lab members lead the remainder of the program, which includes brain health information, like resources to address changes in memory and thinking that we may experience as we age. This is followed by time spent in group “brain exercises” that target four domains of thinking: memory, communication, attention, and problem-solving.

Sessions are also tailored to the participants’ curiosities and interests based on regular input about the group’s greatest areas of need and interest. In feedback from past sessions, participants have shared the connections they make with others in the group and the passion from student volunteers inspires them to keep coming back to the program.

“We want to create a positive social support network for people to come without stigma or stereotypes to provide education and exercises to support brain health throughout our communities,” Davis said.

Davis joins Dr. Gilmore-Bykovskyi and her team after working as a nutrition and wellness program coordinator for SSM Health and through this and past Meals on Wheels volunteering experience developed a passion for outreach and a holistic approach to wellness. Additionally, past life experience, including a head injury, helped her realize and further understand some of the daily struggles of people with dementia and helped shape her brain health work and goals for Brain & Body Fitness. 

Brain & Body Fitness will be back for more sessions in September. For more information on how to join or bring Brain & Body Fitness to your community, email brainhealth@nursing.wisc.edu. You can find more information on MSCR here and can learn more about other research Gilmore-Bykovskyi lab projects here.