Study: Life-Long Aerobic Training Preserves White Matter Integrity

DENVER – Motor control and memory are better in older adults who exercise, according to research being presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®.

The study measured brain structure and cognitive function of ten Masters athletes averaging 73 years of age compared with ten sedentary people of similar ages and education levels. The athletes, who had engaged in competitive aerobic training for at least 15 years, showed better white matter fiber integrity than non-athletes in areas of the brain linked with working memory, motor learning, motor control and visuospatial and visuomotor attention.

“We know that brain structure and some aspects of cognitive functioning deteriorate with aging,” said Benjamin Tseng, Ph.D., lead author this study. “As the U.S. population ages, maintaining cognitive vitality and preventing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, in older adults should be a priority for public health. Previously, we found that brain tissue volume appears to be better preserved in Masters athletes in brain regions associated with motor control. The current study was designed to shed light on the role of aerobic exercise in preserving the integrity of white matter in the brain.” White matter is important for its role in transmitting information to the neuron-laden gray matter.

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other tests to gauge brain structures and functioning. Participants were screened by a rigorous protocol to rule out neurological and cardiovascular diseases.

Tseng noted that this study involved a limited number of participants and said ongoing research is being conducted to assess the role of aerobic exercise in preserving brain structure and functioning in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 45,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine. Research highlighted in this news release has been presented at a professional meeting but has not been peer-reviewed.