Given the rising proportion of older adults worldwide and the progressive decline in brain function with advancing age, there is a pressing need to develop novel interventions that protect the aging brain. The predominant approach for implementing exercise training to improve brain function is to increase cardiovascular fitness. However, there is mixed empirical support for the effectiveness of this approach. Further, there are also acute effects of exercise within one hour of the cessation of a single exercise session. These effects occur before adaptations related to fitness could occur and animal studies have shown they occur in the same brain regions that benefit from longer-term exercise training. Therefore, we propose the acute paradigm is a tool to probe this early, direct response from exercise in order to determine how best to maximize the long-term benefit of exercise training on the aging brain. This presents a critical need to determine the mechanistic relation between acute and long-term effects of exercise on the aging brain. Our long-term goal is to determine how exercise protects the brain from the adverse effects of aging. In turn, our specific objective in this R21 proposal is to support or refute the concept that a single session of exercise produces acute increases in functional synchrony of clinically relevant brain networks that are related to accrued exercise-training effects in the same brain systems. Our central hypothesis is that the effects of moderate intensity exercise will increase the functional synchrony of the hippocampus with the Default Mode Network, and the Prefrontal Cortex with the Fronto- Executive Network, in the same fashion as a 12-week moderate intensity exercise training program. This hypothesis is based on data showing acute effects of exercise on factors related to neuronal plasticity and excitability in the same brain regions that show long-term effects of exercise in animals. The contribution of the proposed research is significant because it will determine the extent to which the acute exercise paradigm can provide insight into how regular exercise protects the brain from adverse effects of aging. The proposed research is innovative because for the first time we will examine the overlapping neural systems and outcomes associated with acute and chronic exercise in the same individuals. Overall, success in this project will enable future research to study how varying exercise parameters such as mode or intensity affect exercise-induced change in brain function and the timecourse of these effects, as well as the neurobiological mechanisms associated with the direct effects of exercise on the aging brain.
Although exercise is known to delay cognitive decline and decrease our risk of Alzheimer's Disease, there is a lack of understanding of how exercise protects the aging brain. The proposed research takes a novel approach to this problem by testing the concept that there are acute, direct effects of exercise in the same brain regions that are affected by chronic exercise training. If we are successful, the acute paradigm will allow us to determine the critical exercise parameters that modulate brain function in humans using only a single exercise dose.