Effects of exercise on brain function: role of free radicals

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Oct;32(5):942-6. doi: 10.1139/H07-081.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are continuously generated during aerobic metabolism. Certain levels of ROS, which could be dependent on the type of cell, cell age, history of ROS exposure, etc., could facilitate specific cell functions. Indeed, ROS stimulate a number of stress responses and activate gene expression for a wide range of proteins. It is well known that increased levels of ROS are involved in the aging process and the pathogenesis of a number of neurodegenerative diseases. Because of the enhanced sensitivity of the central nervous system to ROS, it is especially important to maintain the normal redox state in different types of neuro cells. In the last decade it became clear that regular exercise beneficially affects brain function as well, and can play an important preventive and therapeutic role in stroke and in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The effects of exercise appear to be very complex and could include neurogenesis via neurotrophic factors, increased capillarization, decreased oxidative damage, and increased proteolytic degradation by proteasome and neprilysin. Data from our and other laboratories indicate that exercise-induced modulation of ROS levels plays a role in the protein content and expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, tyrosine recepetor kinase B, and cAMP response element binding protein, resulting in better function and increased neurogenesis. The enhanced activities of proteasome and neprilysin result in decreased accumulation of carbonyls and amyloid beta-proteins, as well as improved memory. It appears that exercise-induced modulation of the redox state is an important means by which exercise benefits brain function, increases the resistance against oxidative stress, and facilitates recovery from oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Free Radicals