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J Alzheimers Dis. 2019;67(2):671-684. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180728.

Resting Cerebral Blood Flow After Exercise Training in Mild Cognitive Impairment.

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Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA.
Department of Kinesiology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.
Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.
Department of Psychology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA.
Department of Neuropsychology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA.
Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.



Exercise training has been associated with greater cerebral blood flow (CBF) in cognitively normal older adults (CN). Alterations in CBF, including compensatory perfusion in the prefrontal cortex, may facilitate changes to the brain's neural infrastructure.


To examine the effects of a 12-week aerobic exercise intervention on resting CBF and cognition in CN and those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). We hypothesized individuals with MCI (versus CN) would exhibit greater whole brain CBF at baseline and that exercise would mitigate these differences. We also expected CBF changes to parallel cognitive improvements.


Before and after a 12-week exercise intervention, 18 CN and 17 MCI participants (aged 61-88) underwent aerobic fitness testing, neuropsychological assessment, and an MRI scan. Perfusion-weighted images were collected using a GE 3T MR system. Repeated measures analyses of covariance were used to test within- and between-group differences over time, followed by post-hoc analyses to examine links between CBF changes and cognitive improvement.


At baseline, individuals with MCI (versus CN) exhibited significantly elevated perfusion in the left insula. Twelve weeks of aerobic exercise reversed this discrepancy. Additionally, exercise improved working memory (measured by the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test) and verbal fluency (measured by the Controlled Oral Word Association Test) and differentially altered CBF depending on cognitive status. Among those with MCI, decreased CBF in the left insula and anterior cingulate cortex was associated with improved verbal fluency.


Exercise training alters CBF and improves cognitive performance in older adults with and without cognitive impairment. Future studies must evaluate the mediating effects of CBF on the association between exercise training and cognition.


Aging; cerebral blood flow; exercise; magnetic resonance imaging; mild cognitive impairment; neuroimaging

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