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Insights from the Founder: Matthew Nelms on the Importance of Physical Activity

Disclaimer: Please note, the following are personal opinions and do not represent the views of my affiliations.

Matthew Nelms co-founded Raise the Bar in 2015 with Evan Knapp-Fisher. Raise the Bar had the pleasure to speak with Matthew on the topic of physical activity, and what he learned during his time studying and researching this area. Currently, Matthew is pursuing his medical education at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine. He graduated in 2017 from Queen’s University with an Honours Bachelor of Science, Specialization in Kinesiology. Following his undergraduate degree, Matthew completed his Master’s of Science at Queen's University in 2019. Below are some important insights that Matthew shared with us – continue reading to find out why physical activity is so important and easy ways you can incorporate it into your daily routine!

Q: In your opinion, why is physical activity so important?

A: “There is a strong positive association with health and wellness. Individuals who are more physically active are less likely to die from preventable causes and have an increased quality of life. Beyond the common perceived benefits, it serves as a great way to socialize with friends or spend time clearing one’s head.”

Q: How do you incorporate physical activity into your busy schedule as a medical student?

A: “For me, I try to schedule some sort of physical activity into my daily life, whether it is walking instead of using transit, playing in a recreational sports league, or working out at the gym. This helps me to keep my level of stress in check and provides me with a fun social outlet while staying healthy. Some amount of physical activity is better than none.”

Q: Were there any exciting research developments in the field of physical activity that you learned while completing your master’s degree?

A: “There is a lot of research that has consistently demonstrated the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness (the ability for the body to uptake and use oxygen) as a powerful marker of health. Something I find very exciting is the development and validation of non-exercise fitness calculators, like the World Fitness Level (, that allows one’s level of fitness to be estimated based on factors like age, physical activity level and sex. Physical activity is the only aspect of fitness that we can modify. The ability to use this type of technology may serve to improve the type of healthcare offered to individuals and empower them to monitor their fitness.”

Q: What is the most surprising thing you learned about physical activity?

A: “While most people know that it is important,the mechanisms at the cellular level of why physical activity makes us healthier is not fully understood. There are many ongoing studies around the world that are investigating how physical activity benefits many different aspects of health, whether it be heart health, immune function, mental health etc.”

Q: Based on what you have learned, do you see a link between physical activity and cognitive function?

A: “My area of graduate research did not focus on cognitive health, however, there is a wealth of literature that is beginning to emerge on the positive association between physical activity and cognitive function, across the lifespan. Similar to the health benefits that most attribute to physical activity, the literature suggests an association with both cognitive performance and mental health. For example, a recent review of 18 randomized controlled studies found that engaging in moderate intensity physical activity was consistently associated with improved cognitive function across all domains.”

Q: Is there any advice you can give students on how to utilize physical activity to enhance cognitive function?

A: “School can be stressful, especially during midterms and finals. Regular physical activity is associated with a number of benefits, including improved mood and academic performance. Making an effort to schedule in regular physical activity is a great way to help boost cognitive function. Some research also suggests that physical activity immediately before cognitive tasks is associated with improved performance. Ultimately, adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours, including regular physical activity and sticking with them is a great way to enhance cognitive performance.”

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