Aerobic fitness relates to learning on a virtual Morris Water Task and hippocampal volume in adolescents.Behav Brain Res 2012; 233(2):517-25BB
In rodents, exercise increases hippocampal neurogenesis and allows for better learning and memory performance on water maze tasks. While exercise has also been shown to be beneficial for the brain and behavior in humans, no study has examined how exercise impacts spatial learning using a directly translational water maze task, or if these relationships exist during adolescence--a developmental period which the animal literature has shown to be especially vulnerable to exercise effects. In this study, we investigated the influence of aerobic fitness on hippocampal size and subsequent learning and memory, including visuospatial memory using a human analogue of the Morris Water Task, in 34 adolescents. Results showed that higher aerobic fitness predicted better learning on the virtual Morris Water Task and larger hippocampal volumes. No relationship between virtual Morris Water Task memory recall and aerobic fitness was detected. Aerobic fitness, however, did not relate to global brain volume or verbal learning, which might suggest some specificity of the influence of aerobic fitness on the adolescent brain. This study provides a direct translational approach to the existing animal literature on exercise, as well as adds to the sparse research that exists on how aerobic exercise impacts the developing human brain and memory.