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Aerobic Exercise May Improve Cognitive Function

Aerobic Exercise May Improve Cognitive Function

A new type of imaging study shows that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, can led to significant brain changes.

Using a new MRI technique, researchers found that adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who exercised four times a week over a six-month period, experienced an increase in brain volume in specific, or local, areas of the brain.

Moreover, adults who participated in aerobic exercise experienced greater gains than those who just stretched. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain,” said the study’s lead investigator, Laura D. Baker, Ph.D., from Wake Forest School of Medicine (WFSM) in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The randomized study included 35 adults with MCI participating in a controlled trial of exercise intervention. Individuals with MCI are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, which affects more than five million Americans today.

The participants were divided into two groups. Sixteen adults (average age 63 years) engaged in aerobic activity, including treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical training, four times per week for six months. A control group of 19 adults (average age 67 years) participated in stretching exercises with the same frequency.

High-resolution brain images were acquired from all participants before and after the six-month activity period. The MRI results were compared using conventional and biomechanical metrics to measure the change in both brain volume and shape.

“We used high-resolution images to measure anatomical changes within areas of the brain to obtain both volumetric data and directional information,” said Jeongchul Kim, Ph.D., co-investigator on the study from WFSM.

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.

“Compared to the stretching group, the aerobic activity group had greater preservation of total brain volume, increased local gray matter volume, and increased directional stretch of brain tissue,” Kim said.

Among participants of the stretching group, the analysis revealed a local contraction, or atrophy, within the white matter connecting fibers. According to Kim, such directional deformation, or shape change, is partially related to volume loss, but not always.

“Directional changes in the brain without local volume changes could be a novel biomarker for neurological disease,” he said. “It may be a more sensitive marker for the tiny changes that occur in a specific brain region before volumetric changes are detectable on MRI.”

He said both MRI measures are important to the treatment of MCI and AD, which require the careful tracking of changes in the brain while patients engage in interventions including diet and exercise to slow the progression of the disease.

Study participants were tested to determine the effect of exercise intervention on cognitive performance. Participants in the aerobic exercise group showed statistically significant improvement in executive function after six months, whereas the stretching group did not improve.

Researchers believe the study demonstrates that exercise can improve brain health.

“Any type of exercise can be beneficial,” Kim said. “If possible, aerobic activity may create potential benefits for higher cognitive functioning.”

Source: Radiological Society of North America/EurekAlert

Aerobic Exercise May Improve Cognitive Function

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Aerobic Exercise May Improve Cognitive Function. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/12/01/aerobic-exercise-may-improve-cognitive-function/113266.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Dec 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Dec 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.