Aerobic Exercise Preserves Brain Volume and Improves Cognitive Function

Researchers found that adults who have mild cognitive impairment and exercised four times a week experienced an increase in brain volume in specific, or local, areas of the brain over a six-month period. Furthermore, adults who participated in aerobic exercise experienced greater gains than those who just stretched. Using a new magnetic resonance imaging technique, researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine (WFSM) in Winston-Salem, N.C. studied 35 adults with mild cognitive impairment in a randomized, controlled trial of exercise intervention. Participants were divided into two groups: 16 adults (with a mean age of 63 years) engaged in aerobic activity (treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical training) four times per week for 6 months and a control group (19 adults with a mean age of 67 years) who performed a similar number of interventions but only performing stretching exercises. High-resolution magnetic resonance images of the brain were acquired from all participants before and after the 6-month period. Changes in both brain volume and shape were compared.

The analysis revealed that for both the aerobic and stretching groups, brain volume increased in most gray matter regions, including the temporal lobe, which supports short-term memory. Among subjects in the stretching group, the analysis revealed a apparent atrophy in the white matter connecting fibers. The researchers believe such directional deformation, or shape change, is can be related to volume loss. 

Subjects were tested to determine whether there was an effect of exercise intervention on cognitive performance. Those subjects in the aerobic exercise group showed statistically significant improvement in executive function after 6 months, whereas those in the stretching group did not.

  1. Aerobic Exercise Preserves Brain Volume and Improves Cognitive Function - (