Summary: Researchers report a significant decrease in cerebral blood flow after physically fit older adults stop exercising for a short period of time.
Source: University of Maryland.
We all know that we can quickly lose cardiovascular endurance if we stop exercising for a few weeks, but what impact does the cessation of exercise have on our brains? New research led by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers examined cerebral blood flow in healthy, physically fit older adults (ages 50-80 years) before and after a 10-day period during which they stopped all exercise. Using MRI brain imaging techniques, they found a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain regions, including the hippocampus, after they stopped their exercise routines.
“We know that the hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory and is one of the first brain regions to shrink in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study, which is published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in August 2016. “In rodents, the hippocampus responds to exercise training by increasing the growth of new blood vessels and new neurons, and in older people, exercise can help protect the hippocampus from shrinking. So, it is significant that people who stopped exercising for only 10 days showed a decrease in brain blood flow in brain regions that are important for maintaining brain health.”
The study participants were all “master athletes,” defined as people between the ages of 50 and 80 (average age was 61) who have at least 15 years history of participating in endurance exercise and who have recently competed in an endurance event. Their exercise regimens must have entailed at least four hours of high intensity endurance training each week. On average, they were running ~36 miles (59 km) each week or the equivalent of a 10K run a day! Not surprisingly, this group had a V02 max above 90% for their age. This is a measure of the maximal rate of oxygen consumption of an individual and reflects their aerobic physical fitness.
Dr. Smith and colleagues measured the velocity of blood flow in brain with an MRI scan while they were still following their regular training routine (at peak fitness) and again after 10 days of no exercise. They found that resting cerebral blood flow significantly decreased in eight brain regions, including the areas of the left and right hippocampus and several regions known to be part of the brain’s “default mode network” – a neural network known to deteriorate quickly with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. This information adds to the growing scientific understanding of the impact of physical activity on cognitive health.
“We know that if you are less physically active, you are more likely to have cognitive problems and dementia as you age,” says Dr. Smith. “However, we did not find any evidence that cognitive abilities worsened after stopping exercising for just 10 days. But the take home message is simple – if you do stop exercising for 10 days, just as you will quickly lose your cardiovascular fitness, you will also experience a decrease in blood brain flow.”
Dr. Smith believes that this could have important implications for brain health in older adults, and points to the need for more research to understand how fast these changes occur, what the long term effects could be, and how fast they could be reversed when exercise is resumed.
Funding: This study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (HL098810). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.
Source: Kelly Blake – University of Maryland
Image Source: This NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes” by Alfonso J. Alfini, Lauren R. Weiss, Brooks P. Leitner, Theresa J. Smith, James M. Hagberg and J. Carson Smith in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Published online August 5 2016 doi:10.3389/fnagi.2016.00184
Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes
While endurance exercise training improves cerebrovascular health and has neurotrophic effects within the hippocampus, the effects of stopping this exercise on the brain remain unclear. Our aim was to measure the effects of 10 days of detraining on resting cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in gray matter and the hippocampus in healthy and physically fit older adults. We hypothesized that rCBF would decrease in the hippocampus after a 10-day cessation of exercise training. Twelve master athletes, defined as older adults (age ≥ 50 years) with long-term endurance training histories (≥15 years), were recruited from local running clubs. After screening, eligible participants were asked to cease all training and vigorous physical activity for 10 consecutive days. Before and immediately after the exercise cessation period, rCBF was measured with perfusion-weighted MRI. A voxel-wise analysis was used in gray matter, and the hippocampus was selected a priori as a structurally defined region of interest (ROI), to detect rCBF changes over time. Resting CBF significantly decreased in eight gray matter brain regions. These regions included: (L) inferior temporal gyrus, fusiform gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, (R) cerebellar tonsil, lingual gyrus, precuneus, and bilateral cerebellum (FWE p < 0.05). Additionally, rCBF within the left and right hippocampus significantly decreased after 10 days of no exercise training. These findings suggest that the cerebrovascular system, including the regulation of resting hippocampal blood flow, is responsive to short-term decreases in exercise training among master athletes. Cessation of exercise training among physically fit individuals may provide a novel method to assess the effects of acute exercise and exercise training on brain function in older adults.
“Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes” by Alfonso J. Alfini, Lauren R. Weiss, Brooks P. Leitner, Theresa J. Smith, James M. Hagberg and J. Carson Smith in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Published online August 5 2016 doi:10.3389/fnagi.2016.00184