Exercising Away Cognitive Impairment

Aerobic training tied to significant increase in hippocampal volume

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Aerobic exercise can promote healthy weight loss and bone health. New research shows that it could also help maintain brain volume and fight cognitive decline.

Women between 70 and 80 years old participated in a study that measured the effects of exercise on the volume of the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory.

The researchers found that aerobic exercise resulted in increased hippocampus volume.

Aerobic exercise — running, for example — is meant to improve cardiovascular fitness.

Women assigned to resistance training and to balance and tone exercises did not show similar increases.

"Talk to a physical therapist about an exercise plan to promote mental health."

Teresa Liu-Ambrose, PhD, PT, of the Department of Physical Therapy in the University of British Columbia, led this study.

According to Dr. Liu-Ambrose and colleagues, 35.6 million people currently have dementiaMild cognitive impairment, which is cognitive decline beyond that which comes with aging, is a risk factor for dementia.

This study looked at whether aerobic and resistance exercise can prevent mild cognitive impairment from becoming worse.

The researchers recruited 86 women between the ages of 70 and 80 years with probable mild cognitive impairment.

Before the study began, each woman's verbal memory and learning were assessed.

Some of the participants also underwent an MRI scan of the brain to determine hippocampus volume.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is responsible for memory creation and storage.

The participants were assigned to a twice-weekly exercise program involving either aerobics training, resistance training or balance and tone training.

The classes lasted for 60 minutes and included a 10-minute warm-up and 10-minute cool-down.

After six months of the exercise training, participants underwent another MRI and cognitive testing.

Compliance, or the percentage of classes attended, was highest in the aerobic training group, at 60 percent.

The researchers found that compared with the balance and tone training group, the aerobic training group experienced significant increases in total hippocampal volume.

However, the researchers also discovered that increased volume in the left hippocampus was tied to poorer performance on verbal memory tests.

The authors of this study concluded that twice-weekly aerobic training can increase the volume of the hippocampus among women between 70 and 80 years old who show signs of cognitive impairment.

These authors called for more research on the relationship between hippocampus volume and cognitive decline.

They also noted that previous studies have shown the benefits of exercise on brain health and bone health.

According to Rusty Gregory, a personal trainer and wellness coach in Austin, Texas and a dailyRx Contributing Expert, "Exercise creates new neurons in the hippocampus leading to greater memory and learning. In turn, these new neurons increase the size of the hippocampus which fights other factors contributing to cognitive decline. Additionally, exercise increases blood flow to the hippocampus, the main area of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease."

This study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on April 8.

The research was funded by The Pacific Alzheimer's Research Foundation and the Jack Brown and Family Alzheimer Research Foundation. The authors disclosed no competing interests.

Review Date: 
April 8, 2014
Last Updated:
April 10, 2014