Acute high-intensity exercise-induced cognitive enhancement and brain-derived neurotrophic factor in young, healthy adults

Neurosci Lett. 2016 Sep 6:630:247-253. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2016.07.033. Epub 2016 Jul 20.


Acute exercise can positively impact cognition. The present study examined the effect of acute high-intensity aerobic exercise on prefrontal-dependent cognitive performance and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Fifty-eight young adults were randomly assigned to one of two experimental groups: (a) an acute bout of high-intensity exercise (n=29) or (b) a non-exercise control (n=29). Participants in the exercise group improved performance on inhibitory control in Stroop interference and on cognitive flexibility in Trail Making Test (TMT) Part-B compared with participants in the control group and increased BDNF immediately after exercise. There was a significant relationship between BDNF and TMT Part-B on the pre-post change following exercise. These findings provide support for the association between improved prefrontal-dependent cognitive performance and increased BDNF in response to acute exercise. We conclude that the changes in BDNF concentration may be partially responsible for prefrontal-dependent cognitive functioning following an acute bout of exercise.

Keywords: Aerobic exercise; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Cognition; Young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Stroop Test
  • Trail Making Test
  • Young Adult


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • BDNF protein, human