Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume and improves memory in multiple sclerosis: preliminary findings

Neurocase. 2014;20(6):695-7. doi: 10.1080/13554794.2013.841951. Epub 2013 Oct 4.


Multiple sclerosis leads to prominent hippocampal atrophy, which is linked to memory deficits. Indeed, 50% of multiple sclerosis patients suffer memory impairment, with negative consequences for quality of life. There are currently no effective memory treatments for multiple sclerosis either pharmacological or behavioral. Aerobic exercise improves memory and promotes hippocampal neurogenesis in nonhuman animals. Here, we investigate the benefits of aerobic exercise in memory-impaired multiple sclerosis patients. Pilot data were collected from two ambulatory, memory-impaired multiple sclerosis participants randomized to non-aerobic (stretching) and aerobic (stationary cycling) conditions. The following baseline/follow-up measurements were taken: high-resolution MRI (neuroanatomical volumes), fMRI (functional connectivity), and memory assessment. Intervention was 30-minute sessions 3 times per week for 3 months. Aerobic exercise resulted in 16.5% increase in hippocampal volume and 53.7% increase in memory, as well as increased hippocampal resting-state functional connectivity. Improvements were specific, with no comparable changes in overall cerebral gray matter (+2.4%), non-hippocampal deep gray matter structures (thalamus, caudate: -4.0%), or in non-memory cognitive functioning (executive functions, processing speed, working memory: changes ranged from -11% to +4%). Non-aerobic exercise resulted in relatively no change in hippocampal volume (2.8%) or memory (0.0%), and no changes in hippocampal functional connectivity. This is the first evidence for aerobic exercise to increase hippocampal volume and connectivity and improve memory in multiple sclerosis. Aerobic exercise represents a cost-effective, widely available, natural, and self-administered treatment with no adverse side effects that may be the first effective memory treatment for multiple sclerosis patients.

Keywords: Aerobic; Functional connectivity; Hippocampus; Memory; Multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome