White matter integrity declined over 6-months, but dance intervention improved integrity of the Fornix of older adults

Agnieszka Z. Burzynska, Yuqin Jiao, Anya M. Knecht, Jason Fanning, Elizabeth A. Awick, Tammy Chen, Neha Gothe, Michelle W. Voss, Edward McAuley, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Degeneration of cerebral white matter (WM), or structural disconnection, is one of the major neural mechanisms driving age-related decline in cognitive functions, such as processing speed. Past cross-sectional studies have demonstrated beneficial effects of greater cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity, cognitive training, social engagement, and nutrition on cognitive functioning and brain health in aging. Here, we collected diffusion magnetic resonance (MRI) imaging data from 174 older (age 60-79) adults to study the effects of 6-months lifestyle interventions on WM integrity. Healthy but low-active participants were randomized into Dance, Walking, Walking + Nutrition, and Active Control (stretching and toning) intervention groups (NCT01472744 on ClinicalTrials.gov). Only in the fornix there was a time × intervention group interaction of change in WM integrity: integrity declined over 6 months in all groups but increased in the Dance group. Integrity in the fornix at baseline was associated with better processing speed, however, change in fornix integrity did not correlate with change in processing speed. Next, we observed a decline in WM integrity across the majority of brain regions in all participants, regardless of the intervention group. This suggests that the aging of the brain is detectable on the scale of 6-months, which highlights the urgency of finding effective interventions to slow down this process. Magnitude of WM decline increased with age and decline in prefrontal WM was of lesser magnitude in older adults spending less time sedentary and more engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. In addition, our findings support the anterior-to-posterior gradient of greater-to-lesser decline, but only in the in the corpus callosum. Together, our findings suggest that combining physical, cognitive, and social engagement (dance) may help maintain or improve WM health and more physically active lifestyle is associated with slower WM decline. This study emphasizes the importance of a physically active and socially engaging lifestyle among aging adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number59
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
StatePublished - Mar 16 2017


  • Brain
  • DTI
  • Diffusion
  • Fitness
  • Fractional anisotropy
  • Physical activity
  • Processing speed
  • Randomized clinical trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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