Background: Physical activity (PA) can be neuroprotective and reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease (AD). In assessing physical activity, caloric expenditure is a proxy marker reflecting the sum total of multiple physical activity types conducted by an individual.
Objective: To assess caloric expenditure, as a proxy marker of PA, as a predictive measure of gray matter (GM) volumes in the normal and cognitively impaired elderly persons.
Methods: All subjects in this study were recruited from the Institutional Review Board approved Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), a multisite population-based longitudinal study in persons aged 65 and older. We analyzed a sub-sample of CHS participants 876 subjects (mean age 78.3, 57.5% F, 42.5% M) who had i) energy output assessed as kilocalories (kcal) per week using the standardized Minnesota Leisure-Time Activities questionnaire, ii) cognitive assessments for clinical classification of normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and AD, and iii) volumetric MR imaging of the brain. Voxel-based morphometry modeled the relationship between kcal/week and GM volumes while accounting for standard covariates including head size, age, sex, white matter hyperintensity lesions, MCI or AD status, and site. Multiple comparisons were controlled using a False Discovery Rate of 5 percent.
Results: Higher energy output, from a variety of physical activity types, was associated with larger GM volumes in frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes, as well as hippocampus, thalamus, and basal ganglia. High levels of caloric expenditure moderated neurodegeneration-associated volume loss in the precuneus, posterior cingulate, and cerebellar vermis.
Conclusion: Increasing energy output from a variety of physical activities is related to larger gray matter volumes in the elderly, regardless of cognitive status.
Keywords: Aging; dementia risk; energy expenditure; neuroimaging; neuroprotection; physical activity.