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Neuroscience. 2012 Jan 27;202:252-66. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.11.054. Epub 2011 Dec 8.

Aerobic exercise prevents age-dependent cognitive decline and reduces anxiety-related behaviors in middle-aged and old rats.

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1
School of Health Sciences, Department of Basic Sciences Research, University of Business and Social Sciences (UCES), Buenos Aires, Argentina. apietrelli@uces.edu.ar

Abstract

Recent research involving human and animals has shown that aerobic exercise of moderate intensity produces the greatest benefit on brain health and behavior. In this study we investigated the effects on cognitive function and anxiety-related behavior in rats at different ages of aerobic exercise, performed regularly throughout life. We designed an aerobic training program with the treadmill running following the basic principles of human training, and assuming that rats have the same physiological adaptations. The intensity was gradually adjusted to the fitness level and age, and maintained at 60-70% of maximum oxygen consumption (max.VO(2)). In middle age (8 months) and old age (18 months), we studied the cognitive response with the radial maze (RM), and anxiety-related behaviors with the open field (OF) and the elevated plus maze (EPM). Aerobically trained (AT) rats had a higher cognitive performance measured in the RM, showing that exercise had a cumulative and amplifier effect on memory and learning. The analysis of age and exercise revealed that the effects of aerobic exercise were modulated by age. Middle-aged AT rats were the most successful animals; however, the old AT rats met the criteria more often than the middle-aged sedentary controls (SC), indicating that exercise could reverse the negative effects of sedentary life, partially restore the cognitive function, and protect against the deleterious effects of aging. The results in the OF and EPM showed a significant decrease in key indicators of anxiety, revealing that age affected most of the analyzed variables, and that exercise had a prominent anxiolytic effect, particularly strong in old age. In conclusion, our results indicated that regular and chronic aerobic exercise has time and dose-dependent, neuroprotective and restorative effects on physiological brain aging, and reduces anxiety-related behaviors.

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