Patty S. believes in good karma. She has participated in several studies to advance medical knowledge because she believes it’s the right thing to do. So when she was approaching her 60th birthday, and thinking about making some major changes to feel better, she went looking for a study that could help her stay motivated. And got more than she could have imagined.

Patty joined the McCance Center Exercise and Brain Health study in December, 2020. The study experience began with a sleep study in the lab at Mass General, where she learned how exercise can contribute to sleep quality and brain health. Read more about the science behind the study and the results.

Typical annual doctor’s visits have a familiar ring when you’re about 60. The Primary Care Physician (PCP) cautions that sleeping better, managing weight, more exercise and more attention to managing stress are all good predictors of living a longer, healthier life. But what Patty learned for the first time when she participated in this study was the impact to her brain – and that’s where she latched on to motivation to change.

The other key motivator for Patty was being held accountable by the study. “These things were always in the back of my to do list, but the study allowed me to really think and make some positive changes,” she says.

After receiving the results of her sleep study, the McCance Center research team, led by An Ouyang, PhD, sat down with Patty to discuss her opportunities to change. She was impressed by the data. As someone who regularly relies on data in her profession as an occupational health expert, she was motivated to improve her metrics now that she could clearly see the opportunities.

Over the course of the study, she began to develop healthier sleep patterns, lost 50 pounds and developed regular 30-minute a day, 5 days a week exercise habits. She felt incredible support from Dr. Ouyang, and recommends a study like this can provide “positive impact for those who are willing to listen and learn."

The big reward is her future outlook, but the small successes are just as gratifying. This year, when her family took their annual New Year’s Day hike through the woods, she says she wasn’t “at the back of the pack, feeling winded. I was right there in the middle, feeling great. And instead of our usual five miles, we hiked for 10.”

The big surprise for her was the opportunity to improve her brain health as well. Everyone knows the doctors’ recommendations on improving cardiac health and reducing cancer risk, but the opportunity to prevent or reduce cognitive decline was a benefit to the study that she didn’t anticipate.

From here on, she says, “I’m not taking my health for granted – I believe in changing what is in your power to change.”

To learn more about other study opportunities, visit To learn more about steps you can take to manage your brain health now, and prevent cognitive decline, visit our Brain Care Score page.