High-intensity interval exercise and cerebrovascular health: curiosity, cause, and consequence

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2015 Jun;35(6):902-11. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2015.49. Epub 2015 Apr 1.


Exercise is a uniquely effective and pluripotent medicine against several noncommunicable diseases of westernised lifestyles, including protection against neurodegenerative disorders. High-intensity interval exercise training (HIT) is emerging as an effective alternative to current health-related exercise guidelines. Compared with traditional moderate-intensity continuous exercise training, HIT confers equivalent if not indeed superior metabolic, cardiac, and systemic vascular adaptation. Consequently, HIT is being promoted as a more time-efficient and practical approach to optimize health thereby reducing the burden of disease associated with physical inactivity. However, no studies to date have examined the impact of HIT on the cerebrovasculature and corresponding implications for cognitive function. This review critiques the implications of HIT for cerebrovascular function, with a focus on the mechanisms and translational impact for patient health and well-being. It also introduces similarly novel interventions currently under investigation as alternative means of accelerating exercise-induced cerebrovascular adaptation. We highlight a need for studies of the mechanisms and thereby also the optimal dose-response strategies to guide exercise prescription, and for studies to explore alternative approaches to optimize exercise outcomes in brain-related health and disease prevention. From a clinical perspective, interventions that selectively target the aging brain have the potential to prevent stroke and associated neurovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition
  • Exercise Therapy* / methods
  • Exercise*
  • Humans