The effect of physical exercise on functional brain network connectivity in older adults with and without cognitive impairment. A systematic review

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Mechanisms of Ageing and Development



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Introduction: Neurodegeneration is a biproduct of aging that results in concomitant cognitive decline. Physical exercise is an emerging intervention to improve brain health. The underlying neural mechanisms linking exercise to neurodegeneration, however, are unclear. Functional brain network connectivity (FBNC) refers to neural regions that are anatomically separate but temporally synched in functional signalling. FBNC can be measured using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and is affected by neurodegeneration. Methods: We conducted a systematic review using PubMed and EMBASE to assess the effect of physical exercise on FBNC in older adults with and without cognitive impairment. Results: Our search yielded 1474 articles; after exclusion, 13 were included in the final review, 8 of which focused on cognitively healthy older adults. 10 studies demonstrated an increase in FBNC post-exercise intervention, while 11 studies showed improvements in secondary outcomes (cognitive and/or physical performance). One study showed significant correlations between FBNC and cognitive performance measures that significantly improved post-intervention. Discussion: We found evidence that physical exercise increases FBNC. When assessing the association between FBNC with physical and cognitive functioning, careful consideration must be given to variability in exercise parameters, neural regions of interest and networks examined, and heterogeneity in methodological approaches.

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