The effect of acute exercise on blood concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy adults: a meta-analysis

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Jul;46(1):1635-1646. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13603. Epub 2017 Jun 19.


It has been hypothesized that one mechanism through which physical activity provides benefits to cognition and mood is via increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) concentrations. Some studies have reported immediate benefits to mood and various cognitive domains after a single session of exercise. This meta-analysis sought to determine the effect of a single exercise session on concentrations of BDNF in peripheral blood, in order to evaluate the potential role of BDNF in mediating the beneficial effects of exercise on brain health. MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus, Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine Source, and CINAHL databases were searched for original, peer-reviewed reports of peripheral blood BDNF concentrations before and after acute exercise interventions. Risk of bias within studies was assessed using standardized criteria. Standardized mean differences (SMDs) were generated from random effects models. Risk of publication bias was assessed using a funnel plot and Egger's test. Potential sources of heterogeneity were explored in subgroup analyses. In 55 studies that met inclusion criteria, concentrations of peripheral blood BDNF were higher after exercise (SMD = 0.59, 95% CI: 0.46-0.72, P < 0.001). In meta-regression analysis, greater duration of exercise was associated with greater increases in BDNF. Subgroup analyses revealed an effect in males but not in females, and a greater BDNF increase in plasma than serum. Acute exercise increased BDNF concentrations in the peripheral blood of healthy adults. This effect was influenced by exercise duration and may be different across genders.

Keywords: brain-derived neurotrophic factor; cognition; exercise; meta-analysis; mood.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor