Aerobic Exercise 4 Times a Week Improves Cognitive Function

December 15th 2016
Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor

Aerobic activity preserved total brain volume and improved cognitive function in adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who exercised 4 times a week over a 6-month period saw an increase in brain volume, according to study results presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting.

Individuals who participated in aerobicexercisesaw even greater gains compared with adults who just stretched.

“Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain,” said lead investigator Laura D. Baker, PhD.

Investigators divided 35 adults with MCI into 2 groups for the randomized controlled trial of exercise intervention. In the first group, 16 adults with an average age of 63 years engaged in aerobic activity, which included elliptical training, stationary bike, or a treadmill, 4 times a week for 6 months.

In the control group, 19 participants with an average age of 67 years did stretching exercises with the same frequency.

Using a new technique, investigators took high-resolution brain MRI images of all participants both before and after the 6-month period. To measure the change in brain volume and shape, investigators compared the MRI results using conventional and biomechanical metrics.

“We used high-resolution MR images to measure anatomical changes within areas of the brain to obtain both volumetric data and directional information,” said co-investigator Jeongchul Kim, PHD.

The results of the study showed that both the aerobic and stretching groups had an increase of brain volume in most gray matter regions, including the temporal lobe.

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

The participants were tested to determine the effect of exercise intervention on cognitive performance. Individuals in the aerobic exercise group showed statistically significant improvement in executive function after 6 months, whereas there was no improvement seen in the stretching group.

Because individuals with MCI are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, both MRI measures are important for treatment. This requires the careful tracking of changes in the brain while patients engage in interventions, such as diet and exercise, to slow the disease progression, according to the authors.

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

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