University of Maryland School of Medicine Professor of Neurology and Medicine, Richard F. Macko, MD, is one of 17 top scientists who contributed to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. The 799-page report released March 2, 2018 by the Honorable Alex M. Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, consolidates the world’s scientific literature on physical activity across the age span for health promotion, disease prevention, and improving health for many chronic disease and disability conditions.  The scientific report heavily informed the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines released November 13, 2018.

“Some of the greatest advances have come in our understanding of how much physical activity can improve brain health, both in healthy populations and for persons with a number of pre-existing neurological, psychiatric and medical conditions,” says Dr. Macko, who is also a neurologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “We have known for many years that neurological recovery after stroke is related to physical activity-dependent brain plasticity. What is new and exciting since the initial 2008 Scientific Report is that physical activity has a robust effect improving cognitive function, preventing dementia, improving quality of life and mood, and sleep in adults including those with insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. When also considering the evidence that physical activity can improve physical function and health for persons with stroke, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis, the public health impact could be huge,” says Dr. Macko, who participated on the Brain Health, and Individuals with Chronic  Conditions subcommittees.

Dr. Macko studies the effect of physical activity merged with motor learning to improve health and physical function for individuals aging with chronic disability from stroke. His collaborative research has shown that exercise can improve fitness, glucose tolerance to reverse pre-diabetic state, cognitive function, increase brain blood flow, and increase walking velocity, even years after a disabling stroke event.

“These recommendations can and should empower individuals to fight back against disability and improve their brain health with physical activity in dosages that I describe to my patients as doable,” says Dr. Macko. “The scientific evidence is now there for us to improve the health of the nation, and for individuals to act upon for their own betterment.”