Free-living physical activity measured with a wearable device is associated with larger hippocampus volume and greater functional connectivity in healthy older adults

Several studies using neuroimaging techniques have established a positive relationship between physical activity (PA) and brain structure and function in older populations. However, the use of subjective measures of PA and the lack of multimodal neuroimaging approaches have limited the understanding of this association. This study aims to explore the associations between PA and brain structure and function by objectively evaluating PA. Community-dwelling cognitively healthy older adults (without diagnosed cognitive, neurological or degenerative disease) were recruited from local health centers and local gyms. In a cross-sectional design, participants were evaluated regarding cognitive, clinical, anthropometric, physical performance, and lifestyle characteristics. A 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed for structural and functional brain measures. PA time and level was assessed via a Xiaomi Mi Band 2® worn for 15 consecutive days. Participants (n = 110, after inclusion/exclusion criteria and completion of all evaluations) were 58 females (56%), with an average age of 68.42 years old (SD = 3.12), most were active. Multiple regression analysis revealed that higher time spent in vigorous PA associated with larger left parahippocampal gyrus and right hippocampus volumes. Furthermore, the analysis of the functional connectome indicated a greater functional connectivity (FC) between the frontal gyrus, cingulate gyrus, occipital inferior lobe for light, moderate, and total PA time, and sedentary time associated with lower FC in the same networks. Overall, the structural and functional findings may provide evidence on the relevant association between PA and brain health in aging.

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