Leo Sher, M.D.
A research report, “White matter plasticity in healthy older adults: The effects of aerobic exercise” has been published in Neuroimage (1). This study found that regions of the brain most vulnerable to aging were also the regions that benefitted most from aerobic exercise.
The authors examined the effects of a 6-month aerobic walking and dance interventions on white matter integrity in healthy older adults measured by changes in the ratio of calibrated T1- to T2-weighted images (T1w/T2w). Participants were 247 community-dwelling older adults (average age of 65 yrs., 68% women) enrolled in a 24-week randomized controlled exercise trial that examined the effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive performance and brain health.
The aerobic walking and social dance interventions resulted in positive changes in the T1w/T2w signal in late-myelinating regions, as compared to widespread decreases in the T1w/T2w signal in the active control. In the aerobic walking group, positive change in the T1w/T2w signal correlated with improved episodic memory performance. Intervention-induced increases in cardiorespiratory fitness did not correlate with change in the T1w/T2w signal.
The findings suggest that the white matter in the adult brain retains plasticity in vulnerable regions and that these changes can be observed on a short-term scale. The results of this study support public health recommendations for regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Also, the authors suggest that T1w/T2w signal may be a useful and broadly accessible measure for studying short-term within-person plasticity and deterioration in the adult human white matter.
- Mendez Colmenares A, Voss MW, Fanning J, Salerno EA, Gothe NP, Thomas ML, McAuley E, Kramer AF, Burzynska AZ. White matter plasticity in healthy older adults: The effects of aerobic exercise. Neuroimage. 2021 Oct 1;239:118305. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118305. Epub 2021 Jun 24.