The objective of this paper was to systematically evaluate the potential preventive and therapeutic effects of exercise in attenuating stress-induced memory impairment. A systematic review was employed, searching PubMed, PsychInfo, Sports Discus and Google Scholar databases. For eligibility, studies had to be published in English, employ an experimental design, have the acute or chronic bout of exercise occur prior to, during or after the stressor, implement a psychophysiological stressor, and have an assessment of memory function occurring after the stressor. In total, 23 studies were evaluated, all of which were conducted among animal models. All 23 studies employed a chronic exercise protocol and a chronic stress protocol. Eight studies evaluated a preventive model, three employed a concurrent model, ten studies employed a therapeutic model, and two studies evaluated both a preventive and therapeutic model within the same study. Among the eight studies employing a preventive model, all eight demonstrated that the stress regimen impaired memory function. In all eight of these studies, when exercise occurred prior to the stressor, exercise attenuated the stress-induced memory impairment effect. Among the ten studies employing a therapeutic model, one study showed that the stress protocol enhanced memory function, one showed that the stress protocol did not influence memory, and eight demonstrated that the stress regimen impaired memory function. Among the eight studies showing that the stress protocol impaired memory function, all eight studies demonstrated that exercise, after the stressor, attenuated stress-induced memory impairment. Within animal models, chronic stress is associated with memory impairment and chronic exercise has both a preventive and therapeutic effect in attenuating stress-induced memory impairment. Additional experimental work in human studies is needed. Such work should also examine acute exercise and stress protocols.
Keywords: Cognition; Exercise; Memory; Physical activity; Preventive; Psychological; Psychophysiological; Rescue; Stress; Therapeutic; Treatment.