Background: Mounting evidence showed the self-reported levels of physical activity are positively associated with white matter (WM) integrity and cognitive performance in normal adults and patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, the objective measure of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) was not used in these studies.
Objective: To determine the associations of CRF measured by maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) with WM fiber integrity and neurocognitive performance in older adults with MCI.
Methods: Eighty-one participants (age = 65±7 years, 43 women), including 26 cognitively normal older adults and 55 amnestic MCI patients, underwent VO2max test to measure CRF, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to assess WM fiber integrity, and neurocognitive assessment focused on memory and executive function. DTI data were analyzed by the tract-based spatial statistics and region-of-interest approach.
Results: Cognitively normal older adults and MCI patients were not different in global WM fiber integrity and VO2max. VO2max was associated positively with DTI metrics of fractional anisotropy in ∼54% WM fiber tracts, and negatively with mean and radial diffusivities in ∼46% and ∼56% of the WM fiber tracts. The associations of VO2max with DTI metrics remained statistically significant after adjustment of age, sex, body mass index, WM lesion burden, and MCI status. The DTI metrics obtained from the area that correlated to VO2max were associated with executive function performance in MCI patients.
Conclusions: Higher levels of CRF are associated with better WM fiber integrity, which in turn is correlated with better executive function performance in MCI patients.
Keywords: Cardiorespiratory fitness; executive function; mild cognitive impairment; white matter.