Aerobic exercise improves brain volume


Can aerobic activity increase the size of the hippocampus – a part of the brain linked with memory – in individuals who already have some memory loss?

What was done?

Eighty-six women with mild cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to one of three groups, i) a group that did no exercise ii) a group that did balance and tone training iii) and a group that did aerobic exercise. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan assessed the participants’ hippocampal volume before and after the trial.

What was found?

Aerobic training was associated with significantly improved hippocampal volume as well as reduced verbal and learning performance losses.

How does this effect me?

Through incorporating aerobic activity, for example a brisk walk around the block, into your daily life you can improve your physical health as well as help prevent memory loss./

Article Abstract

Background Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a well-recognised risk factor for dementia and represents a vital opportunity for intervening. Exercise is a promising strategy for combating cognitive decline by improving brain structure and function. Specifically, aerobic training (AT) improved spatial memory and hippocampal volume in healthy community-dwelling older adults. In older women with probable MCI, we previously demonstrated that resistance training (RT) and AT improved memory. In this secondary analysis, we investigated: (1) the effect of RT and AT on hippocampal volume and (2) the association between change in hippocampal volume and change in memory.
Methods: 86 women aged 70–80 years with probable MCI were randomly assigned to a 6-month, twice-weekly programme of: (1) AT, (2) RT or (3) balance and tone training (BAT; ie, control). At baseline and trial completion, participants performed a 3T MRI scan to determine hippocampal volume. Verbal memory and learning were assessed by Rey’s Auditory Verbal Learning Test.
Results: Compared with the BAT group, AT significantly improved left, right and total hippocampal volumes (p≤0.03). After accounting for baseline cognitive function and experimental group, increased left hippocampal volume was independently associated with reduced verbal memory and learning performance as indexed by loss after interference (r=0.42, p=0.03).
Conclusions: Aerobic training significantly increased hippocampal volume in older women with probable MCI. More research is needed to ascertain the relevance of exercise-induced changes in hippocampal volume on memory performance in older adults with MCI.

Article Citation


Lisanne F. ten Brinke, Niousha Bolandzadeh, Lindsay S. Nagamatsu, Chun L. Hsu, Jennifer C. Davis, Karim Miran-Khan, and Teresa Liu-Ambrose. Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(4):248–254, February 2015.

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