Better aerobic fitness, however, does not appear to impact hippocampal volume — another area in the brain responsible for memory, the study found.
While aerobic fitness is not directly associated with performance on a recognition memory task, the participants with a larger entorhinal cortex also performed better on the recognition memory task.
“Our results suggest that aerobic exercise may have a positive effect on the medial temporal lobe memory system (which includes the entorhinal cortex) in healthy young adults,” said principal investigator Karin Schon from Boston University School of Medicine.
“This suggests that exercise training, when designed to increase aerobic fitness, might have a positive effect on the brain in healthy young adults,” Schon added.
The entorhinal cortex is a brain area known to show early pathology in Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by profound memory impairment.
Researchers said this work could support previous studies that suggest aerobic exercise may forestall cognitive decline in older individuals at risk of dementia, and extends the idea that exercise may be beneficial for brain health to younger adults.
“This is critical given that obesity, which has recently been linked with cognitive deficits in young and middle-aged adults, and physical inactivity are on the rise in young adults,” Schon said.
The study appeared in the journal NeuroImage.