The study, in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, followed 65 adults, aged 59 to 80, who joined a walking group or stretching and toning group for a year. All of the participants were sedentary before the study, reporting less than two episodes of physical activity lasting 30 minutes or more in the previous six months. The researchers also measured brain activity in 32 younger (18- to 35-year-old) adults.
Rather than focusing on specific brain structures, the study looked at activity in brain regions that function together as networks.
“Almost nothing in the brain gets done by one area – it’s more of a circuit,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute Director Art Kramer, who led the study with kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley and doctoral student Michelle Voss. “These networks can become more or less connected. In general, as we get older, they become less connected, so we were interested in the effects of fitness on connectivity of brain networks that show the most dysfunction with age.”
Neuroscientists have identified several distinct brain circuits. Perhaps the most intriguing is the default mode network (DMN), which dominates brain activity when a person is least engaged with the outside world – either passively observing something or simply daydreaming.
Previous studies found that a loss of coordination in the DMN is a common symptom of aging and in extreme cases can be a marker of disease, Voss said.
“For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have less activity in the default mode network and they tend to have less connectivity,” she said. Low connectivity means that the different parts of the circuit are not operating in sync. Like poorly trained athletes on a rowing team, the brain regions that make up the circuit lack coordination and so do not function at optimal efficiency or speed, Voss said.
In a healthy young brain, activity in the DMN quickly diminishes when a person engages in an activity that requires focus on the external environment. Older people, people with Alzheimer’s disease and those who are schizophrenic have more difficulty “down-regulating” the DMN so that other brain networks can come to the fore, Kramer said.
A recent study by Kramer, Voss and their colleagues found that older adults who are more fit tend to have better connectivity in specific regions of the DMN than their sedentary peers. Those with more connectivity in the DMN also tend to be better at planning, prioritizing, strategizing and multi-tasking.
The new study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine whether aerobic activity increased connectivity in the DMN or other brain networks. The researchers measured participants’ brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tasks at the beginning of the study, at six months and after a year of either walking or toning and stretching.
At the end of the year, DMN connectivity was significantly improved in the brains of the older walkers, but not in the stretching and toning group, the researchers report.
The walkers also had increased connectivity in parts of another brain circuit (the fronto-executive network, which aids in the performance of complex tasks) and they did significantly better on cognitive tests than their toning and stretching peers.
Previous studies have found that aerobic exercise can enhance the function of specific brain structures, Kramer said. This study shows that even moderate aerobic exercise also improves the coordination of important brain networks.
“The higher the connectivity, the better the performance on some of these cognitive tasks, especially the ones we call executive control tasks – things like planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity, working memory and multitasking,” Kramer said. These are the very skills that tend to decline with aging, he said.
This study was supported by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy