Exercise and microstructural changes in the motor cortex of older adults
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Exercise has been shown to counteract age-related volume decreases in the human brain, and in this imaging study, we ask whether the same holds true for the microstructure of the cortex. Healthy older adults (n = 47, 65-90 years old) either exercised three times a week on a stationary bike or maintained their usual physical routine over a 12-week period. Quantitative longitudinal relaxation rate (R1 ) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) maps were made at baseline and after the 12-week intervention. R1 is commonly taken to reflect cortical myelin density. The change in R1 (ΔR1 ) was significantly increased in a region of interest (ROI) in the primary motor cortex containing motor outputs to the leg musculature in the exercise group relative to the control group (p = .04). The change in R1 in this ROI correlated with an increase in oxygen consumption at the first ventilatory threshold (VT1) (p = .04), a marker of improvement in submaximal aerobic performance. An exploratory analysis across the cortex suggested that the correlation was predominately confined to the leg representation in the motor cortex. This study suggests that microstructural declines in the cortex of older adults may be staved off by exercise.
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