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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2019 Apr 25:1-12. doi: 10.1017/S1355617719000171. [Epub ahead of print]

Semantic Memory Activation After Acute Exercise in Healthy Older Adults.

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1Department of Kinesiology,University of Maryland,College Park,Maryland.
2Department of Mental Health,Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,Baltimore,Maryland.



A growing body of research suggests that regular participation in long-term exercise is associated with enhanced cognitive function. However, less is known about the beneficial effects of acute exercise on semantic memory. This study investigated brain activation during a semantic memory task after a single session of exercise in healthy older adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).


Using a within-subjects counterbalanced design, 26 participants (ages, 55-85 years) underwent two experimental visits on separate days. During each visit, participants engaged in 30 min of rest or stationary cycling exercise immediately before performing a Famous and Non-Famous name discrimination task during fMRI scanning.


Acute exercise was associated with significantly greater semantic memory activation (Famous>Non-Famous) in the middle frontal, inferior temporal, middle temporal, and fusiform gyri. A planned comparison additionally showed significantly greater activation in the bilateral hippocampus after exercise compared to rest. These effects were confined to correct trials, and as expected, there were no differences between conditions in response time or accuracy.


Greater brain activation following a single session of exercise suggests that exercise may increase neural processes underlying semantic memory activation in healthy older adults. These effects were localized to the known semantic memory network, and thus do not appear to reflect a general or widespread increase in brain blood flow. Coupled with our prior exercise training effects on semantic memory-related activation, these data suggest the acute increase in neural activation after exercise may provide a stimulus for adaptation over repeated exercise sessions. (JINS, 2019, 00, 1-12).


Aging; Brain health; Exercise; Hippocampus; Older adults; Physical activity; Semantic memory; fMRI


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