Differential associations of engagement in physical activity and estimated cardiorespiratory fitness with brain volume in middle-aged to older adults

Abstract

Previous work has confirmed the benefits of aerobic exercise for brain aging, however mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear. Two measures of exercise, time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), may reflect different pathways linking activity to brain health. Using data from the UK Biobank, the largest sample combining neuroimaging and objectively measured MVPA available to date (n = 7148, nmale = 3062, nfemale = 4086; age = 62.14 ± 7.40 years), we found that, when adjusted for covariates including MVPA, CRF was positively associated with overall gray matter volume (FDR p = 1.28E-05). In contrast, when adjusted for covariates including CRF, MVPA was positively associated with left and right hippocampal (FDR pleft = 0.01; FDR pright = 0.02) volumes, but not overall gray matter volume. Both CRF and MVPA were inversely associated with white matter hyperintensity lesion loads (FDR pCRF = 0.002; pMVPA = 0.02). Our results suggest separable effects of engagement in exercise behaviors (MVPA) and the physiological effects of exercise (CRF) on structural brain volumes, which may have implications for differential pathways linking exercise and brain benefits.

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Acknowledgements

This research was conducted using the UK Biobank Resource under Application Number 21259. We thank the participants and organizers of the UK Biobank.

Funding

The authors would like to acknowledge support by the National Institute on Aging (AG019610, AG049464, AG054077), the National Science Foundation (BCS 1440867), National Institute of Health (HL136528), the State of Arizona and Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation.

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Correspondence to David A. Raichlen or Gene E. Alexander.

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DR declares that he has no conflict of interest. YK declares that he has no conflict of interest. PB declares that he has no conflict of interest. GA declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Raichlen, D.A., Klimentidis, Y.C., Bharadwaj, P.K. et al. Differential associations of engagement in physical activity and estimated cardiorespiratory fitness with brain volume in middle-aged to older adults. Brain Imaging and Behavior 14, 1994–2003 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-019-00148-x

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Keywords

  • Exercise
  • VO2MAX
  • MRI
  • Hippocampus
  • Gray matter