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Brain Topogr. 2013 Jan;26(1):126-34. doi: 10.1007/s10548-012-0248-8. Epub 2012 Aug 28.

Aerobic fitness and the brain: increased N-acetyl-aspartate and choline concentrations in endurance-trained middle-aged adults.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Engagement in regular aerobic exercise is associated with cognitive benefits, but information on the mechanisms governing these changes in humans is limited. The goal of the current study was to compare neurometabolite concentrations relating to cellular metabolism, structure, and viability in endurance-trained and sedentary middle-aged adults. Twenty-eight endurance-trained and 27 sedentary adults, aged 40-65 years, underwent general health assessment, cardiorespiratory fitness measurement, neuropsychological testing, and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H MRS). (1)H MRS was used to examine N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), creatine (Cr), myo-inositol (mI), choline (Cho), and glutamate (Glu) concentrations in frontal and occipitoparietal grey matter. Group differences in concentrations of NAA, Cho, mI, and Glu, calculated as ratios over Cr, were explored using ANOVA. There were no significant differences in global cognitive function, memory, and executive function performance between the groups. In comparison to sedentary adults, the endurance-trained group displayed significantly higher NAA/Cr in the frontal grey matter (F(1, 53) = 5.367, p = 0.024) and higher Cho/Cr in the occipitoparietal grey matter (F(1, 53) = 5.138, p = 0.028). Within our middle-aged sample, endurance-trained adults demonstrated higher levels of NAA/Cr in the frontal grey matter and higher Cho/Cr in the occipitoparietal grey matter. Higher levels of NAA may indicate greater neuronal integrity and higher cerebral metabolic efficiency in association with cardiorespiratory fitness, whereas increased Cho may represent increased phospholipid levels secondary to neural plasticity.

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