On aerobic exercise and behavioral and neural plasticity

Brain Sci. 2012 Nov 29;2(4):709-44. doi: 10.3390/brainsci2040709.


Aerobic exercise promotes rapid and profound alterations in the brain. Depending upon the pattern and duration of exercise, these changes in the brain may extend beyond traditional motor areas to regions and structures normally linked to learning, cognition, and emotion. Exercise-induced alterations may include changes in blood flow, hormone and growth factor release, receptor expression, angiogenesis, apoptosis, neurogenesis, and synaptogenesis. Together, we believe that these changes underlie elevations of mood and prompt the heightened behavioral plasticity commonly observed following adoption of a chronic exercise regimen. In the following paper, we will explore both the psychological and psychobiological literatures relating to exercise effects on brain in both human and non-human animals and will attempt to link plastic changes in these neural structures to modifications in learned behavior and emotional expression. In addition, we will explore the therapeutic potential of exercise given recent reports that aerobic exercise may serve as a neuroprotectant and can also slow cognitive decline during normal and pathological aging.