Young adults who have greater aerobic fitness also have greater volume of their entorhinal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for memory, Boston University School of medicine (BUSM) researchers have found. While aerobic fitness is not directly associated with performance on a recognition memory task, the participants with a larger entorhinal cortex also performed better on a recognition memory task. The entorhinal cortex is a brain area known to show early pathology in Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by profound memory impairment.
The researchers recruited healthy young adults (ages 18-35 years) who underwent a treadmill test to measure aerobic capacity. During this test, the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the participants’ breath as they walked or ran on a treadmill was measured. Participants then underwent magnetic resonance imaging and performed a recognition memory task. Entorhinal and hippocampal volume was determined using a method known as voxel-based morphometry and then regression analysis to examine whether recognition memory and aerobic fitness predicted brain volumes. “Our results suggest that aerobic exercise may have a positive effect on the medial temporal lobe memory system (which includes the entorhinal cortex) in healthy young adults. This suggests that exercise training, when designed to increase aerobic fitness, might have a positive effect on the brain in healthy young adults,” explained corresponding author and principal investigator Karin Schon, PhD, BUSM assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology.