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Linking objective measures of physical activity and capability with brain structure in healthy community dwelling older adults

By Anne-Marthe Sanders, Genevieve Richard, Knut Kolskår, Kristine M. Ulrichsen, Tobias Kaufmann, Dag Alnaes, Dani Beck, Erlend S. Dørum, Ann Marie de Lange, Jan Egil Nordvik, Lars T. Westlye

Posted 29 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.28.21250529

Maintaining high levels of daily activity and physical capability have been proposed as important constituents to promote healthy brain and cognitive aging. Studies investigating the associations between brain health and physical activity in late life have, however, mainly been based on self-reported data or measures designed for clinical populations. In the current study, we examined cross-sectional associations between physical activity, recorded by an ankle-positioned accelerometer for seven days, physical capability (grip strength, postural control, and walking speed), and neuroimaging based surrogate markers of brain health in 122 healthy older adults aged 65-88 years. We used a multimodal brain imaging approach offering two complementary structural MRI based indicators of brain health: white matter diffusivity and coherence based on diffusion tensor imaging and subcortical and global brain age based on brain morphology inferred from T1-weighted MRI data. The analyses revealed a significant association between global white matter fractional anisotropy (FA) and walking speed, indicating higher white matter coherence in people with higher pace. We also found a significant interaction between sex and brain age on number of daily steps, indicating younger-appearing brains in more physically active women, with no significant associations among men. These results provide insight into the intricate associations between different measures of brain and physical health in old age, and corroborate established public health advice promoting physical activity.

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