White matter integrity in physically fit older adults

B. Y. Tseng, T. Gundapuneedi, M. A. Khan, R. Diaz-Arrastia, B. D. Levine, H. Lu, H. Huang, R. Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Background: White matter (WM) integrity declines with normal aging. Physical activity may attenuate age-related WM integrity changes and improve cognitive function. This study examined brain WM integrity in Masters athletes who have engaged in life-long aerobic exercise training. We tested the hypothesis that life-long aerobic training is associated with improved brain WM integrity in older adults. Methods: Ten Masters athletes (3 females, age=72.2. ±. 5.3. years, endurance training >. 15. years) and 10 sedentary older adults similar in age and educational level (2 females, age=74.5. ±. 4.3. years) participated. MRI fluid-attenuated-inversion-recovery (FLAIR) images were acquired to assess white matter hyperintensities (WMH) volume. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was performed to evaluate the WM microstructural integrity with a DTI-derived metric, fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD). Results: After normalization to whole-brain volume, Masters athletes showed an 83% reduction in deep WMH volume relative to their sedentary counterparts (0.05±0.05% vs. 0.29±0.29%, p<0.05). In addition, we found an inverse relationship between aerobic fitness (VO2max) and deep WMH volume (r=-0.78, p<0.001). Using TBSS, Masters athletes showed higher FA values in the right superior corona radiata (SCR), both sides of superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFO), and left inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). In addition, Masters athletes also showed lower MD values in the left posterior thalamic radiation (PTR) and left cingulum hippocampus. Conclusions: These findings suggest that life-long exercise is associated with reduced WMH and may preserve WM fiber microstructural integrity related to motor control and coordination in older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-516
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Nov 15 2013


  • Aging
  • Exercise
  • MRI
  • Plasticity
  • White matter disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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