- Key Point: Physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age, numerous studies have shown. Now researchers have explored in one of the first studies worldwide how exercise affects brain metabolism. Their conclusion: Regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism.
Background: Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt explored how exercise affects brain metabolism. They examined the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory of 60 participants ages between 65 and 85 in a randomised controlled trial.
The Study: Researchers examined participants in the SMART study (Sport and Metabolism in Older Persons, an MRT Study) by assessing movement-related parameters, cardiopulmonary fitness and cognitive performance. In addition, they used magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure brain metabolism and structure.
Following this examination, participants rode an exercise bike three times a week over 12 weeks. The 30-minute training sessions were individually adapted to each participant’s performance level. Researchers then re-examined the participants to understand the effects of the physical activity on brain metabolism, cognitive performance and brain structure. The researchers also investigated to what extent exercise had led to an improvement in the participants’ physical fitness.
Results: As expected, physical activity influenced brain metabolism: It prevented an increase in choline. The concentration of this metabolite often rises as a result of the increased loss of nerve cells, which typically occurs in the case of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical exercise led to stable cerebral choline concentrations in the training group, whereas choline levels increased in the control group. Physical fitness also improved, with better cardiac efficiency after the training period. Overall, these findings suggest that physical exercise not only improves physical fitness but also protects cells.
I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.
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- S Matura, J Fleckenstein, R Deichmann, T Engeroff, E Füzéki, E Hattingen, R Hellweg, B Lienerth, U Pilatus, S Schwarz, V A Tesky, L Vogt, W Banzer, J Pantel. Effects of aerobic exercise on brain metabolism and grey matter volume in older adults: results of the randomised controlled SMART trial. Translational Psychiatry, 2017; 7 (7): e1172 DOI: 10.1038/tp.2017.135