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Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomised controlled trial

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.

Trail registration number NCT00958867.

  • Aerobic fitness/Vo2 Max
  • Aging
  • Cardiovascular
  • Exercise
  • Gender issues

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