Finding Meaning in Movement

Sarah Robichaud (right) of Dancing with Parkinson’s

We often think of physical activity contributing only to physical fitness – but there is strong evidence to support that movement benefits, protects, and sustains our cognitive fitness as well. Movement in all forms has profound impacts on our brains across our lifespan, from improving mental health to reducing risk of dementia, and more.

In May 2021, Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) hosted a Public Talk as part of the Wellness Series, “Finding Meaning in Movement” – discussing how integrating small changes in movement each day is an investment in your brain health for years to come.

Panelists included Sarah Robichaud, Executive Director and Founder of Dancing with Parkinson’s, Dr. Laura Middleton, Associate Professor, Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology, Dr. Patrick Jachyra – A post-doctoral fellow at the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre, CAMH, examining the interconnections between mental health and physical activity among individuals diagnosed with developmental disorders, and Dr. P. David Howe – Medical Anthropologist and the Dr. Frank J. Hayden Endowed Chair in Sport and Social Impact at Western University’s School of Kinesiology. Joyce Barretto, a member of the OBI Board of Directors and CAO at Health Shared Services Ontario, opened up the event which was moderated by Wency Leung, Health Reporter with the Globe and Mail.

Link between movement and cognitive health

Dr. Laura Middleton shared the history of research around movement and brain health, highlighting studies that have shown the beneficial effects of physical activity on cognitive abilities. Over the last 20 years, a number of these research initiatives have reported consistent findings indicating those who were more physically active had a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in the risk of getting dementia – including Alzheimer’s disease, in comparison to those who were less active. Every step counts so check out the newly updated ‘It’s Time to Get Active! How Healthy Active Living Impacts Dementia’ toolkit.

Enhancing our mental health

For many, the benefits of physical activity are perceived to only happen with intense exercise – a belief that Dr. Patrick Jachyra is looking to diffuse. “Even a little bit of movement that we can integrate each day gives us a sense of structure, of routine, of predictability,” says Dr. Jachyra. In addition to that boost in confidence, there is also the scientific evidence that movement decreases our stress hormones – which has a dramatic impact on our mood and mindset.

Social connectivity and barriers to inclusion

Panelists also focused on the importance of social connectivity and how pairing that connectivity with physical activity can amplify the benefits of both. Sarah Robichaud, through her work with Dancing with Parkinson’s, shared examples of the relationships established through her program that supports seniors who are often isolated not only due to their disease, but also more recently due to the pandemic. The program was able to move to a virtual platform, where after 20 minutes of dancing, the seniors would come together online and share stories from across the country.

The challenge, cautions Dr. P. David Howe, is overcoming the barriers to accessibility to sport and physical activity – barriers that many within the disability community face. “Physical activity can be another form of social control,” says Dr. Howe. “Where people with physical or cognitive disabilities may not have access. We need to take the opportunity to celebrate diversity.”

Dr. Middleton agrees – noting that inclusion isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s necessary – everyone has a right to equal participation.

To enjoy the full discussion, you can watch the video here: OBI Public Talks – The Wellness Series: Finding Meaning in Movement – YouTube

A Decade Older, A Decade Wiser

Ten years ago, the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) was established with a goal of improving brain health for the 1 in 3 Ontarians directly impacted by brain disorders. As we look back, we’re certain that our formula for collaborative discovery and innovation works and that we are on course to advance brain health. But along the way we’ve learned a lot by testing assumptions, collecting feedback from our stakeholders, and gathering data that will help us chart the course for the next phase. While there are many insights we could share, a few stand out which will help us focus our activities through this funding cycle and the next. And they all revolve around how we work with people, which is when you think about it makes sense for an organization that is focused on building relationships and supporting collaborations.

We have learnt to appreciate that showing direct impact of work on the people and the community is as important as strong performance metrics. We’ve seen that patient engagement improves the quality of research and makes its outputs more meaningful. And lastly, we must listen to the needs of our stakeholders and build systems to help them succeed. Continue reading “A Decade Older, A Decade Wiser”

Why Patient Engagement Matters in Improving Brain Health?


1. Lived experience offers valuable insight on what matters

“Being a part of OBI’s Patient Advisory Committee has provided me the opportunity to increase my own knowledge base while being able to share my opinions and thoughts – the ability to contribute a broader personal perspective, based on my lived experience and professional experience towards research projects” says Shelly LaForest. Shelly is a parent of three – two of whom have epilepsy, a practicing Registered Nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children and a member of OBI’s Data Access Committee and Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for EpLink. Continue reading “Why Patient Engagement Matters in Improving Brain Health?”

Care in the Digital Age

The shift from traditional in-person activities to the digital space brought on by the pandemic has been challenging, but this change gave us a new perspective on how we do our work. Simply by moving online, we’ve been able to reduce barriers to access and reach more people than ever before. Change doesn’t come easily, but despite the challenges we’ve faced along the way, we are poised to steer the future of brain health into the digital space by investing our energy and resources in the right places.

OBI is committed to supporting activities that either generate the evidence to improve care or lead to the development of products and services that improve health outcomes. We’re striving to improve the lives of people with brain disorders and moving to digital or virtual approaches makes it easier to reach the 1 in 3 Ontarians in the comfort of their homes. Over the last year, we’ve supported major efforts to address mental health challenges, better the delivery and experience of virtual care, and create new tools that can be used at home. Continue reading “Care in the Digital Age”

Four misconceptions around depression

“These are truly extraordinary times. We know that when people are experiencing something new and unfamiliar to them, it can cause many people to also experience stress and anxiety among other mental health challenges,” remarked the Hon. Michael Tibollo, Associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “These stressors become a lot for a person to manage on their own – even with the support of their family and friends.”

As Tibollo rightly pointed out, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the concerns around brain health, making it more important than ever for mental health and wellness to be discussed more broadly. This offers people an opportunity to speak and share without fear of stigma and make use of tools and supports readily available to make informed decisions about their overall health in partnership with health care providers.

Here are four misconceptions experts would like to clarify, for you to better understand depression. Continue reading “Four misconceptions around depression”

Using A Patient-Centered Approach


Our health system requires that we ensure our research is relevant to the needs of patients and their families/caregivers, while empowering and supporting patients as partners.   Indeed research ought to be the standard-of-care with the goal of continuous improvement. Partnerships in this virtuous cycle of improvement will generate increased knowledge and tools for self-management of health and lead to better quality evidence that reaches the community faster.

Continue reading “Using A Patient-Centered Approach”

Brain-CODE – An Engine for Collaboration

The Ontario Brain Institute (OBI)  builds collaborations between Ontario neuroscientists so that they can combine their diverse expertise and resources to better understand brain disorders and translate these discoveries into new tools and treatments. Continue reading “Brain-CODE – An Engine for Collaboration”