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Physical Activity and Hippocampus Health

Posted by MullanMichael on July 30, 2014

Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health have published a study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience exploring the relationship between exercise and brain health. 

The results show that adults with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease who partake in moderate physical activity are helping to stave off shrinkage of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory and spatial orientation.  While everyone loses brain volume as they age, those with a heightened genetic risk for Alzheimer’s typically show greater hippocampal atrophy over time.  The scientists found physical activity can preserve the volume of the hippocampus in those with increased risk, meaning they can possibly delay cognitive decline and the onset of the disease.  

The study tracked four groups of adults aged 65-89, all of whom had normal cognitive abilities, for an eighteen-month period.  The volume of the hippocampus was measured using an MRI at both the beginning and end of this period.  The groups were then classified as low or high risk of Alzheimer’s, based on the absence of presence of ApoE4, and for low or high physical activity levels.

Of the four groups studied, those with high genetic risk who did not exercise experienced a decrease in hippocampal volume by around three percent.  All other groups, including those at high risk who did exercise, maintained the volume of their hippocampus 

"Our study provides additional evidence that exercise plays a protective role against cognitive decline and suggests the need for future research to investigate how physical activity may interact with genetics and decrease Alzheimer's risk,” said Dr. Smith, lead author of the study.


1)   University of Maryland. (2014, April 23). Physical activity keeps hippocampus healthy in people at risk for Alzheimer's disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423102746.htm

2)   J. Carson Smith, Kristy A. Nielson, John L. Woodard, Michael Seidenberg, Sally Durgerian, Kathleen E. Hazlett, Christina M. Figueroa, Cassandra C. Kandah, Christina D. Kay, Monica A. Matthews, Stephen M. Rao. Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2014; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00061

By Emma Henson 


The Roskamp Institute is a 501(c)3 research facility dedicated to translating the efforts of its qualified research staff into real-world results for those suffering from neurological diseases. To learn more about our programs and to get information about donating, visit www.rfdn.org.


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