Is Objectively Assessed Sedentary Behavior, Physical Activity and Cardiorespiratory Fitness Linked to Brain Plasticity Outcomes in Old Age?

Neuroscience. 2018 Sep 15;388:384-392. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2018.07.050. Epub 2018 Aug 3.


The aim of this cross-sectional study was to determine the associations of objectively assessed habitual physical activity and physical performance with brain plasticity outcomes and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in cognitively healthy older adults. Physical performance was analyzed based on cardiopulmonary exercise-testing data and accelerometer-based physical activity was analyzed as total activity counts, sedentary time, light physical activity and moderate to vigorous physical activity. Brain plasticity outcomes included magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)-based markers, quantitative imaging-based hippocampal volume and BDNF serum levels. The association between physical performance and hippocampal volume was strongly influenced by participants' education, sex, age and BMI. Confounder-controlled correlation revealed significant associations of brain plasticity outcomes with physical activity but not with performance. MRS-based adenosine triphosphate to phosphocreatine and glycerophosphocholine to phosphocreatine ratios were significantly associated with accelerometer total activity counts. BDNF was detrimentally associated with sedentary time but beneficially related to accelerometer total activity counts and moderate to vigorous physical activity. Exceeding the current moderate to vigorous physical activity recommendations led to significantly higher BDNF levels. Our results indicate that regular physical activity might be beneficial for preserving brain plasticity in higher age. In this study these associations were not mediated significantly by physical performance. Overall physical activity and exceeding current moderate to vigorous physical activity recommendations were positively associated with BDNF. Sedentary behavior, however, seems to be negatively related to neurotrophic factor bioavailability in the elderly.

Keywords: aging; brain volume; cognitive decline; cognitive function; elderly; neuronal energy reserve.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Aging / pathology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood
  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Endurance Training
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Organ Size
  • Sedentary Behavior*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • BDNF protein, human