White matter hyperintensities (WMHs) are among the most commonly observed marker of cerebrovascular disease. Age is a key risk factor for WMH development. Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is associated with increased vessel compliance, but it remains unknown if high CRF affects WMH volume. This study explored the effects of CRF on WMH volume in community-dwelling older adults. We further tested the possibility of an interaction between CRF and age on WMH volume. Participants were 76 adults between the ages of 59 and 77 (mean age = 65.36 years, SD = 3.92) who underwent a maximal graded exercise test and structural brain imaging. Results indicated that age was a predictor of WMH volume (beta = .32, p = .015). However, an age-by-CRF interaction was observed such that higher CRF was associated with lower WMH volume in older participants (beta = -.25, p = .040). Our findings suggest that higher levels of aerobic fitness may protect cerebrovascular health in older adults.

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Published in PLOS ONE, v. 15, issue 8, e0236986.

© 2020 Johnson et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Funding Information

The study presented in this manuscript was funded by the National Institutes of Health (https://www.nih.gov/). KL2 funding was provided for NFJ (CTSA UL1TR000117). R01 funding was provided for BTG (R01 AG055449). S10 funding was provided for the Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy Center (S10 OD023573).

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