Aerobic Exercise Training Improves Cerebral Blood Flow and Executive Function: A Randomized, Controlled Cross-Over Trial in Sedentary Older Men

Jordi P. D. Kleinloog, Ronald P. Mensink, Dimo Ivanov, Jos J. Adam, Kamil Uludag, Peter J. Joris*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background Physical activity may attenuate age-related cognitive decline by improving cerebrovascular function. The aim of this study was therefore to investigate effects of aerobic exercise training on cerebral blood flow (CBF), which is a sensitive physiological marker of cerebrovascular function, in sedentary older men. Methods Seventeen apparently healthy men, aged 60-70 years and with a BMI between 25 and 35 kg/m(2), were included in a randomized, controlled cross-over trial. Study participants were randomly allocated to a fully-supervised, progressive, aerobic exercise training or no-exercise control period for 8 weeks, separated by a 12-week wash-out period. Measurements at the end of each period included aerobic fitness evaluated using peak oxygen consumption during incremental exercise (VO2peak), CBF measured with pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging, and post-load glucose responses determined using an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Furthermore, cognitive performance was assessed in the domains of executive function, memory, and psychomotor speed. Results VO2peak significantly increased following aerobic exercise training compared to no-exercise control by 262 +/- 236 mL (P <0.001). CBF was increased by 27% bilaterally in the frontal lobe, particularly the subcallosal and anterior cingulate gyrus (cluster volume: 1008 mm(3); P <0.05), while CBF was reduced by 19% in the right medial temporal lobe, mainly temporal fusiform gyrus (cluster volume: 408 mm(3); P <0.05). Mean post-load glucose concentrations determined using an OGTT decreased by 0.33 +/- 0.63 mmol/L (P = 0.049). Furthermore, executive function improved as the latency of response was reduced by 5% (P = 0.034), but no changes were observed in memory or psychomotor speed. Conclusion Aerobic exercise training improves regional CBF in sedentary older men. These changes in CBF may underlie exercise-induced beneficial effects on executive function, which could be partly mediated by improvements in glucose metabolism. This clinical trial is registered on as NCT03272061.

Original languageEnglish
Article number333
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019


  • aging
  • arterial spin labeling
  • cerebral blood flow
  • cognition
  • exercise
  • glucose metabolism

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