Alfonso J. Alfini, Lauren R. Weiss, Brooks P. Leitner, Theresa J. Smith, James M. Hagberg and J. Carson Smith
While endurance exercise training improves cerebrovascular health and has neurotrophic effects within the hippocampus, the effects of stopping this exercise on the brain remain unclear. Our aim was to measure the effects of 10 days of detraining on resting cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in gray matter and the hippocampus in healthy and physically fit older adults. We hypothesized that rCBF would decrease in the hippocampus after a 10-day cessation of exercise training. Twelve master athletes, defined as older adults (age ≥ 50 years) with long-term endurance training histories (≥15 years), were recruited from local running clubs. After screening, eligible participants were asked to cease all training and vigorous physical activity for 10 consecutive days. Before and immediately after the exercise cessation period, rCBF was measured with perfusion-weighted MRI. A voxel-wise analysis was used in gray matter, and the hippocampus was selected a priori as a structurally defined region of interest (ROI), to detect rCBF changes over time. Resting CBF significantly decreased in eight gray matter brain regions. These regions included: (L) inferior temporal gyrus, fusiform gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, (R) cerebellar tonsil, lingual gyrus, precuneus, and bilateral cerebellum (FWE p less than 0.05). Additionally, rCBF within the left and right hippocampus significantly decreased after 10 days of no exercise training. These findings suggest that the cerebrovascular system, including the regulation of resting hippocampal blood flow, is responsive to short-term decreases in exercise training among master athletes. Cessation of exercise training among physically fit individuals may provide a novel method to assess the effects of acute exercise and exercise training on brain function in older adults.