New brain imaging techniques allowed researchers to
detect brain changes earlier
Nov. 12, 2013 - A new study conducted by
researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at
Dallas found that engaging in a physical exercise regimen helps healthy
aging adults improve their memory, brain health and physical fitness.
This finding is significant considering that among adults 50 and older,
"staying mentally sharp" outranks social security and physical health as
the top priority and concern in the United States.
"Science has shown that aging decreases mental
efficiency and memory decline is the number one cognitive complaint of
older adults," said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief
director of the Center for BrainHealth, Dee Wyly Distinguished
University Chair and lead author of the paper.
"This research shows the tremendous benefit of
aerobic exercise on a person's memory and demonstrates that aerobic
exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of
The study was published online in the open-access
journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
For the study, sedentary adults ages 57-75 were
randomized into a physical training or a wait-list control group.
The physical training group participated in
supervised aerobic exercise on a stationary bike or treadmill for one
hour, three times a week for 12 weeks. Participants' cognition, resting
cerebral blood flow, and cardiovascular fitness were assessed at three
time points: before beginning the physical exercise regimen, mid-way
through at 6 weeks, and post-training at 12 weeks.
"By measuring brain blood flow non-invasively using
arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI, we can now begin to detect brain
changes much earlier than before," said Sina Aslan, Ph.D., founder and
president of Advance MRI and collaborator on the study.
"One key region where we saw increase in brain
blood flow was the anterior cingulate, indicating higher neuronal
activity and metabolic rate. The anterior cingulate has been linked to
superior cognition in late life."
Exercisers who improved their memory performance
also showed greater increase in brain blood flow to the hippocampus, the
key brain region affected by Alzheimer's disease. Chapman pointed out
that, using noninvasive brain imaging techniques, brain changes were
identified earlier than memory improvements, implicating brain blood
flow as a promising and sensitive metric of brain health gains across
"Physical exercise may be one of the most
beneficial and cost-effective therapies widely available to everyone to
elevate memory performance," says Dr. Chapman. "These findings should
motivate adults of all ages to start exercising aerobically."
Chapman cautioned that while physical exercise is
associated with a selective or regional brain blood flow, it did not
produce a change in global brain blood flow.
"In another recent study, we have shown that
complex mental training increases whole brain blood flow as well as
regional brain blood flow across key brain networks," Chapman said.
"The combination of physical and mental exercise
may be the best health measures to improve overall cognitive brain
health. We have just begun to test the upper boundaries of how we can
enhance our brain's performance into late life. To think we can alter
and improve the basic structure of the mature brain through aerobic
exercise and complex thinking should inspire us to challenge our
thinking and get moving at any age."
The research was funded by the National Institute
on Aging at the National Institutes of Health (RC1-AG035954), the Lyda
Hill Foundation, the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, and the Dee Wyly
Distinguished University Endowment.
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