Summary: Researchers discover physical activity has an influence on brain metabolism, preventing an increase in choline. A new Translational Psychiatry report suggests physical exercise may help protect neurons and reduce symptoms of dementia in older people.
Source: Goethe University Frankfurt.
SMART study reveals changes in brain metabolism.
Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Now researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have explored in one of the first studies worldwide how exercise affects brain metabolism.
In order to further advance current state of knowledge on the positive influence of physical activity on the brain, gerontologists and sports physicians at Goethe University Frankfurt have examined the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory of 60 participants aged between 65 and 85 in a randomised controlled trial. Their conclusion: regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism.
As the researchers report in the current issue of the medical journal Translational Psychiatry, they thoroughly examined all the participants in the SMART study (Sport and Metabolism in Older Persons, an MRT Study) by assessing movement-related parameters, cardiopulmonary fitness and cognitive performance. In addition, magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) were used to measure brain metabolism and brain structure. Following this examination, the participants mounted an exercise bike three times a week over a period of 12 weeks. The 30-minute training sessions were individually adapted to each participant’s performance level. The participants were examined again after the end of the programme in order to document the effects of this physical activity on brain metabolism, cognitive performance and brain structure. The researchers also investigated to what extent exercise had led to an improvement in the participants’ physical fitness. The study was conducted by the Gerontology Department of the Institute of General Medicine (headed by Professor Johannes Pantel) and the Department of Sports Medicine (led by Professor Winfried Banzer).
As expected, physical activity had influenced brain metabolism: it prevented an increase in choline. The concentration of this metabolite often rises as a result of the increased loss of nerve cells, which typically occurs in the case of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical exercise led to stable cerebral choline concentrations in the training group, whereas choline levels increased in the control group. The participants’ physical fitness also improved: they showed increased cardiac efficiency after the training period. Overall, these findings suggest that physical exercise not only improves physical fitness but also protects cells.
Funding: The study was sponsored by the Else Kröner-Fresenius Foundation, the Cronstetten Foundation and the Schambach Family Foundation.
Source: Silke Matura – Goethe University Frankfurt
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Original Research: Full open access research for “Effects of aerobic exercise on brain metabolism and grey matter volume in older adults: results of the randomised controlled SMART trial” by S Matura, J Fleckenstein, R Deichmann, T Engeroff, E Füzéki, E Hattingen, R Hellweg, B Lienerth, U Pilatus, S Schwarz, V A Tesky, L Vogt, W Banzer & J Pantel in Translational Psychiatry. Published online July 18 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2017.135
Effects of aerobic exercise on brain metabolism and grey matter volume in older adults: results of the randomised controlled SMART trial
There is mounting evidence that aerobic exercise has a positive effect on cognitive functions in older adults. To date, little is known about the neurometabolic and molecular mechanisms underlying this positive effect. The present study used magnetic resonance spectroscopy and quantitative MRI to systematically explore the effects of physical activity on human brain metabolism and grey matter (GM) volume in healthy aging. This is a randomised controlled assessor-blinded two-armed trial (n=53) to explore exercise-induced neuroprotective and metabolic effects on the brain in cognitively healthy older adults. Participants (age >65) were allocated to a 12-week individualised aerobic exercise programme intervention (n=29) or a 12-week waiting control group (n=24). The main outcomes were the change in cerebral metabolism and its association to brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels as well as changes in GM volume. We found that cerebral choline concentrations remained stable after 12 weeks of aerobic exercise in the intervention group, whereas they increased in the waiting control group. No effect of training was seen on cerebral N-acetyl-aspartate concentrations, nor on markers of neuronal energy reserve or BDNF levels. Further, we observed no change in cortical GM volume in response to aerobic exercise. The finding of stable choline concentrations in the intervention group over the 3 month period might indicate a neuroprotective effect of aerobic exercise. Choline might constitute a valid marker for an effect of aerobic exercise on cerebral metabolism in healthy aging.
“Effects of aerobic exercise on brain metabolism and grey matter volume in older adults: results of the randomised controlled SMART trial” by S Matura, J Fleckenstein, R Deichmann, T Engeroff, E Füzéki, E Hattingen, R Hellweg, B Lienerth, U Pilatus, S Schwarz, V A Tesky, L Vogt, W Banzer & J Pantel in Translational Psychiatry. Published online July 18 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2017.135