Therapeutically relevant structural and functional mechanisms triggered by physical and cognitive exercise


Physical and cognitive exercise may prevent or delay dementia in later life but the neural mechanisms underlying these therapeutic benefits are largely unknown. We examined structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain changes after 6 months of progressive resistance training (PRT), computerized cognitive training (CCT) or combined intervention. A total of 100 older individuals (68 females, average age=70.1, s.d.±6.7, 55–87 years) with dementia prodrome mild cognitive impairment were recruited in the SMART (Study of Mental Activity and Resistance Training) Trial. Participants were randomly assigned into four intervention groups: PRT+CCT, PRT+SHAM CCT, CCT+SHAM PRT and double SHAM. Multimodal MRI was conducted at baseline and at 6 months of follow-up (immediately after training) to measure structural and spontaneous functional changes in the brain, with a focus on the hippocampus and posterior cingulate regions. Participants’ cognitive changes were also assessed before and after training. We found that PRT but not CCT significantly improved global cognition (F(90)=4.1, P<0.05) as well as expanded gray matter in the posterior cingulate (Pcorrected r=0.25, P=0.03). PRT also reversed progression of white matter hyperintensities, a biomarker of cerebrovascular disease, in several brain areas. In contrast, CCT but not PRT attenuated decline in overall memory performance (F(90)=5.7, P<0.02), mediated by enhanced functional connectivity between the hippocampus and superior frontal cortex. Our findings indicate that physical and cognitive training depend on discrete neuronal mechanisms for their therapeutic efficacy, information that may help develop targeted lifestyle-based preventative strategies.

Document Type

Journal Article

Lead Organisation

The University of Sydney

Publication Year


Publication Citation

Suo, C., Fiatarone Singh, M., Gates, N., Wen, W., Sachdev, P., Brodaty, H., ... Valenzuela, M. (2016). Therapeutically Relevant Structural and Functional Mechanisms Triggered by Physical and Cognitive Exercise. Molecular Psychiatry, 21(11), 1633-1642. doi:10.1038/mp.2016.19

Distribution License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Article Location

blog comments powered by Disqus