Physical exercise in old age can stimulate brain fitness, but effect decreases with advancing age

Researchers of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), the University of Magdeburg and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have published these results in the current edition of the journal “Molecular Psychiatry”. Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development were also involved in the study.

The 40 test volunteers were healthy for their age, sedentary when the study commenced and divided into two groups. About half of the study participants exercised regularly on a treadmill for 3 months. The other individuals merely performed muscle relaxation sessions. In 7 out of 9 members of the exercise group who were not more than 70 years old, the training improved physical fitness and also tended to increase perfusion in the hippocampus – an area of the brain which is important for memory function. The increased perfusion was accompanied by improved visual memory: at the end of the study, these individuals found it easier to memorize abstract images than at the beginning of the training program. These effects were largely absent in older volunteers who participated in the workout as well as in the members of the control group.

The study included extensive tests of the volunteers’ physical condition and memory. Furthermore, the study participants were examined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technique enables detailed insights into the interior of the brain.

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