Physical Activity, Inflammation, and Volume of the Aging Brain

The vast, overwhelming majority of people should undertake regular moderate exercise - just as their physicians no doubt advise, supported by a mountain of evidence for the benefits of exercise. The relationship between physical activity and some specific measures of health is complex, however, because our biology is complex. All sorts of different internal and environmental factors interact and influence one another to arrive at any one specific outcome, though this paper is quite clear that if you want to better retain brain volume as you age, then you should be exercising:

Physical activity influences inflammation, and both affect brain structure and Alzheimer's disease (AD) risk. We hypothesized that older adults with greater reported physical activity intensity and lower serum levels of the inflammatory marker tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) would have larger regional brain volumes on subsequent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

In 43 cognitively intact older adults (79.3 ± 4.8 years) and 39 patients with AD (81.9 ± 5.1 years at the time of MRI) participating in the Cardiovascular Health Study, we examined year-1 reported physical activity intensity, year-5 blood serum TNFα measures, and year-9 volumetric brain MRI scans. We examined how prior physical activity intensity and TNFα related to subsequent total and regional brain volumes. Physical activity intensity was measured using the modified Minnesota Leisure Time Physical Activities questionnaire at year 1 of the study, when all subjects included here were cognitively intact.

Stability of measures was established for exercise intensity over 9 years and TNFα over 3 years in a subset of subjects who had these measurements at multiple time points. When considered together, more intense physical activity intensity and lower serum TNFα were both associated with greater total brain volume on follow-up MRI scans. TNFα, but not physical activity, was associated with regional volumes of the inferior parietal lobule, a region previously associated with inflammation in AD patients. Physical activity and TNFα may independently influence brain structure in older adults.



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