The latest study in a growing body of research into the neuroprotective effects of physical exercise has been published this week in the Journal of Neurology and highlighted by the BBC. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to study gray and white matter volumes and white matter integrity in the brains of 691 adults in their 70s.
Even when covariates such as age, social class and health status were controlled for, higher levels of physical activity were associated with less brain atrophy and more coherent white matter tracts in the brain in this sample.
This study supports a neuroprotective effect of physical exercise in the human brain but does not shed much light on the mechanisms behind this effect. In connection with the Generation 100 project currently being conducted by CERG, researchers from the Trondheim fMRI group are carrying out a sub study investigating the effects of physical exercise on cognition in 70-75 year olds. Like the study described above, MRI images of the brain will be taken at the start of the study and after one and three years of exercise training of either moderate or high intensity. However, the “Cognition in Generation 100” study will not just look at brain structure. Smell tests will form part of the study, since loss of odor identification abilities is an early sign of cognitive impairment and dementia in aging. In addition, a range of well-validated cognitive tests and questionnaires about memory and mood will be used to gather new information about which aspects of memory and cognition may be affected by fitness levels and physical activity in this age group.
Written by Helen Palmer, researcher at CERG.