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Cognitive Benefits of Aerobic Exercise Across the Age Span

20 Years
65 Years
Open (Enrolling)
Cognitive Function

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Trial Information

Cognitive Benefits of Aerobic Exercise Across the Age Span

While animal and human studies indicate cognitive benefits from aerobic exercise across the
lifespan, the great majority of controlled exercise studies in humans have been restricted
to elderly individuals. Those studies have indicated that enhancing aerobic capacity has a
beneficial effect on cognition. One study suggests that this benefit is seen particularly
for executive control processes, precisely the processes affected by aging. These
improvements have been accompanied by increases in gray matter density and changes in
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) patterns of task-related activation. The goal
of the proposed study is to extend the investigation of the beneficial effects of aerobic
exercise to younger individuals, and to compare these effects in young and old.

In this application we propose to conduct a study in which 260 sedentary but otherwise
healthy and cognitively intact individuals in 2 age groups, young (25-40) and younger old
(50-65), are randomized to two training conditions, aerobic exercise and stretching/toning,
to be completed at The Plus One Fitness Center at Columbia University. Subjects will be
assessed for aerobic capacity, cognitive task performance, and by structural MRI, resting
cerebral blood flow scans (arterial spin labeling) and cognitive activation fMRI studies at
study entry and after 6 months of training.

We also propose two complementary approaches to investigating the neural correlates of the
beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on cognition: 1) imaging -- we will use a
combination of structural, metabolic, and cognitive activation fMRI studies to evaluate the
neural substrates of the effect of aerobic exercise on cognition. 2) important correlates
-- we will explore the effects of apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype, inflammatory markers and
cognitive reserve on the cognitive effects of aerobic exercise.

Inclusion Criteria:

1. Age 20-45, 50-65

2. English-speaking

3. strongly right-handed

4. BMI > 18.5 and < 32

5. Pre-menopausal (women only): no oral contraceptive use Post-menopausal: no estrogen
replacement therapy

6. sedentary: VO2max < 43 and 36 ml/kg/min for men age 25-40 and 50-65, respectively; <
36 and 29 ml/kg/min for women age 25-40 and 50-65 respectively

Exclusion Criteria:

1. MRI contraindications (e.g., metallic implants, pacemaker, weight > 350 lbs, waist >

2. Hearing impaired/hearing aids, unable to read newspaper at arm's length with
corrective lenses

3. Objective cognitive impairment

4. Ischemic changes, abnormal blood pressure responses, or any significant ectopy during
aerobic capacity testing

5. Cardiovascular disease

6. Uncontrolled high blood pressure (systolic blood pressure ≥ 180 mmHg; or diastolic
blood pressure ≥ 105 mmHg on two measures)

7. Current or recent (evidence of disease x 5 years) non-skin neoplastic disease or

8. Active hepatic disease (not a history of hepatitis) or primary renal disease
requiring dialysis, primary untreated endocrine diseases, e.g., Cushing's disease or
primary hypothalamic failure or insulin dependent diabetes (Type I or II).

9. HIV infection

10. Pregnant or lactating (participation allowed 3 months after ceasing lactation

11. Medications that target CNS (e.g., neuroleptics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants,
benzodiazepines) within the last month

12. Women: any selective estrogen receptor modulator or aromatase inhibitor Men:
androgen ablation/deprivation hormonal therapies

13. Any history of psychosis or electroconvulsive therapy

14. Psychotic disorder (lifetime)

15. Current or recent (within past 12 months) alcohol or substance abuse or dependence.
Recent use (past month) of recreational drugs.

16. Brain disorder such as stroke, tumor, infection, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis,
degenerative diseases, head injury, mental retardation

17. Imaged cortical stroke or large subcortical lacunae or infarct or space-occupying
lesion (≥ 2 cubic cm). Other findings, e.g., periventricular caps or small white
matter hyperintensities, do not result in exclusion

18. Diagnosed learning disability, dyslexia

Type of Study:


Study Design:

Allocation: Randomized, Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment, Masking: Single Blind (Outcomes Assessor), Primary Purpose: Basic Science

Outcome Measure:

Change from baseline in measures of executive control function and episodic memory at 6 months

Outcome Description:

tests of global intelligence, executive function, working memory and processing speed

Outcome Time Frame:

24 weeks

Safety Issue:


Principal Investigator

Richard P Sloan, PhD

Investigator Role:

Principal Investigator

Investigator Affiliation:

Columbia University


United States: Institutional Review Board

Study ID:




Start Date:

August 2010

Completion Date:

August 2015

Related Keywords:

  • Cognitive Function
  • cognitive function
  • fMRI
  • apoE
  • inflammatory markers
  • exercise



Columbia University Medical CenterNew York, New York  10032