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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2010 Jun;65(6):639-47. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glq038. Epub 2010 Mar 26.

Psychomotor speed and functional brain MRI 2 years after completing a physical activity treatment.

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Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, 130 North Bellefield Street, Room 512, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.



Short-term adherence to physical activity (PA) in older adults improves psychomotor processing abilities and is associated with greater brain activation. It is not known whether these associations are also significant for longer-term adherence to moderate-intensity activities.


We measured the cross-sectional association of regular walking with brain activation while performing the digit symbol substitution test (DSST). Participants of the lifestyle interventions and independence for elders-pilot study were examined 2 years after completing a 1-year treatment, consisting of either PA or education in successful aging (SA). Data were obtained from 20 PA participants who reported having remained active for 2 years after the end of the treatment and from 10 SA participants who reported having remained sedentary during the same period (mean age: 81.5 and 80.8 years). Complete brain activation and behavioral data were available for 17 PA and 10 SA participants.


Two years after the formal intervention had ended, the PA group engaged in more minutes of moderate activity and had significantly greater DSST score and higher brain activation within regions important for processing speed (left dorsolateral prefrontal, posterior parietal, and anterior cingulate cortices). Associations were independent of self-reported health, blood pressure, cognition, medication records, gray matter atrophy, and white matter hyperintensities.


Persistent engagement in PA may have beneficial effects on psychomotor processing speed and brain activation, even for moderate levels and even when started late in life. Future studies are warranted to assess whether these beneficial effects are explained by delayed neuronal degeneration and/or new neurogenesis.

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