Does body shaping influence brain shape? Habitual physical activity is linked to brain morphology independent of age

Traute Demirakca, Wencke Brusniak, Nuran Tunc-Skarka, Isabella Wolf, Sandra Meier, Franziska Matthäus, Gabriele Ende, Thomas G. Schulze, Carsten Diener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives. Physical activity (PA) was found to influence human brain morphology. However, the impact of PA on brain morphology was mainly demonstrated in seniors. We investigated healthy individuals across a broad age range for the relation between habitual PA and brain morphology. Methods. Ninety-five participants (19-82 years) were assessed for self-reported habitual PA with the "Baecke habitual physical activity questionnaire", and T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were evaluated with whole brain voxel based morphometry for gray and white matter volumes and densities. Results. Regression analyses revealed a positive relation between the extent of physical activity and gray matter volume bilaterally in the anterior hippocampal and parahippocampal gyrus independent of age and gender. Age as well as leisure and locomotion activities were linked to enhanced white matter volumes in the posterior cingulate gyrus and precuneus, suggesting a positive interaction especially in seniors. Conclusions. Habitual physical activity is associated with regional volumetric gray and white matter alterations. The positive relation of hippocampal volume and physical activity seems not to be restricted to seniors. Thus, habitual physical activity should be generally considered as an influencing factor in studies investigating medial temporal lobe volume and associated cognitive functions (memory), especially in psychiatric research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-396
Number of pages10
JournalWorld Journal of Biological Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Cingulate gyrus
  • Habitual physical activity
  • Hippocampus
  • Voxel based morphometry (VBM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine(all)


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