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Physical Activity, the Aging Brain, and Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease



  • Alzheimer’s disease is a significant public health burden and is on the rise with the aging U.S. population.
  • Exercise and physical activity have been shown to improve cognition and memory in healthy older adults and to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in people who are genetically vulnerable to memory loss.
  • This study was conducted to examine whether being physically active affects brain activation during memory in older adults who possessed, or did not possess, a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. [Smith et al. (2011). NeuroImage, 54, 635-644.]

famous name task

  • Older adults viewed names of famous and unfamiliar people.
  • They pressed a button to indicate if the person was famous or not famous.
  • This task provides an index of brain activation related to semantic memory retrieval.

Results showing greater brain activation (red) during famous name recognition in physically active older adults with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease (right column: High Risk, High PA). Greater activation is related to preservation of cognitive function.

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