Tseng, B. Y., Uh, J., Armstrong, K., Palmer, M. D., Cullum, C. M., Diaz-Atrastia, R. G., & Levine, B. D. (2011). Life-long aerobic training preserves white matter integrity: a first look in the masters athlete's brain. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(5). Supplement abstract 922.

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This study determined the effect of life-long aerobic training on brain white matter integrity in older adults. Masters athletes (M = 7; F = 3; ~73 years; aerobic training >15 years), and age, gender, and educational level-matched sedentary elderly (M = 8; F = 2, ~73 years) Ss were screened by a rigorous protocol to eliminate neurological and cardiovascular diseases. White matter microstructure was measured by fractional anisotropy and apparent diffusion coefficient using diffusion tensor imaging. Fractional anisotropy measures axial water diffusion and higher fractional anisotropy indicates better fiber integrity; apparent diffusion coefficient measures radial water diffusion and higher apparent diffusion coefficient indicates poorer fiber integrity. The volume of white matter hyperintensities was measured using fluid attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) images.

Masters athletes demonstrated higher fractional anisotropy in Brodmann area 8 (motor teaming, motor control, visuospatial and visuomotor attention) than sedentary elderly Ss while the sedentary elderly Ss showed higher apparent diffusion coefficients in the Brodmann 10 (working memory) and 32 (motor planning and inhibition) areas. FLAIR images did not show significant difference between groups.

Implication. White matter integrity in the brain areas related to motor control, visuospatial function, and working memory may be better preserved by life-long aerobic exercise training in older adults.

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