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While there is strong evidence from observational studies that physical activity is associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia, the extent to which aerobic training interventions impact on cognitive health and brain structure remains subject to debate. In a pilot study of 46 healthy older adults (66.6 years ± 5.2 years, 63% female), we compared the effects of a twelve-week aerobic training programme to a waitlist control condition on cardiorespiratory fitness, cognition and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) outcomes. Cardiorespiratory fitness was assessed by VO2 max testing. Cognitive assessments spanned executive function, memory and processing speed. Structural MRI analysis included examination of hippocampal volume, and voxel-wise assessment of grey matter volumes using voxel-based morphometry. Diffusion tensor imaging analysis of fractional anisotropy, axial diffusivity and radial diffusivity was performed using tract-based spatial statistics. While the intervention successfully increased cardiorespiratory fitness, there was no evidence that the aerobic training programme led to changes in cognitive functioning or measures of brain structure in older adults. Interventions that are longer lasting, multi-factorial, or targeted at specific high-risk populations, may yield more encouraging results.

Original publication




Journal article


Physiol Behav

Publication Date





Aging, Cardiorespiratory fitness, Diffusion tensor imaging, Magnetic resonance imaging, Physical activity, White matter