Charles Hillman, Professor

Northeastern University

Dr. Charles Hillman received his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 2000, and then began his career at the University of Illinois, where he was a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health for 16 years. He also held appointments in five other units including the Department of Psychology, the Division of Neuroscience, and was an affiliate of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. He continued his career at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where he currently holds appointments in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement, and Rehabilitation Sciences. He is the Associate Director in the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health, which has the mission of understanding the role of lifestyle behaviors on brain and cognition to maximize health and well-being, and promote the effective functioning of individuals across the lifespan. Dr. Hillman has published more than 260 refereed journal articles, 15 book chapters, and 2 edited texts. He served on the 2018 Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for American’s Scientific Advisory Committee. His work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the past 18 years, and he has also received funding from several other federal and private sponsors. Lastly, his research has been featured in the media including: CNN, National Public Radio, Good Morning America, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

Physical activity, brain, and cognition in Preadolescent Children

There is a growing public health burden of unhealthy behaviors (e.g., physical inactivity, excessive energy intake) among children of industrialized nations. Children have become increasingly inactive, leading to concomitant increases in the prevalence of being overweight and unfit. Poor physical activity behaviors during childhood often track throughout life and have implications for the prevalence of several chronic diseases during adulthood. Particularly troubling is the absence of public health concern for the effect of physical inactivity on cognitive and brain health. It is curious that this has not emerged as a larger societal issue, given its clear relation to childhood obesity and other health disorders that have captured public attention. My research program has investigated the relation of health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, exercise) and their related physiological correlates (e.g., aerobic fitness, adiposity) to cognitive and brain health in preadolescent children. My techniques of investigation involve a combination of neuroimaging, behavioral, and scholastic outcomes in an effort to translate basic laboratory findings into everyday life. Findings from my program of research have indicated that greater aerobic fitness and healthy body weight are positively related to brain structure and function, cognition, and scholastic achievement. Such discoveries are timely and important for public health concerns related to chronic disease prevention as a function of childhood inactivity and obesity. These findings link pervasive societal concerns with brain health and cognition, and have implications for the educational environment and the context of learning.