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Keywords:

  • hippocampus;
  • aerobic fitness;
  • eye-tracking;
  • item memory;
  • development

Abstract

It is widely accepted that aerobic exercise enhances hippocampal plasticity. Often, this plasticity co-occurs with gains in hippocampal-dependent memory. Cross-sectional work investigating this relationship in preadolescent children has found behavioral differences in higher versus lower aerobically fit participants for tasks measuring relational memory, which is known to be critically tied to hippocampal structure and function. The present study tested whether similar differences would arise in a clinical intervention setting where a group of preadolescent children were randomly assigned to a 9-month after school aerobic exercise intervention versus a wait-list control group. Performance measures included eye-movements as a measure of memory, based on recent work linking eye-movement indices of relational memory to the hippocampus. Results indicated that only children in the intervention increased their aerobic fitness. Compared to the control group, those who entered the aerobic exercise program displayed eye-movement patterns indicative of superior memory for face-scene relations, with no differences observed in memory for individual faces. The results of this intervention study provide clear support for the proposed linkage among the hippocampus, relational memory, and aerobic fitness, as well as illustrating the sensitivity of eye-movement measures as a means of assessing memory. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.