The Contribution of Physical Exercise to Brain Resilience

Front Behav Neurosci. 2021 Jan 20;14:626769. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2020.626769. eCollection 2020.


Increasing attention has been given to understanding resilience to brain diseases, often described as brain or cognitive reserve. Among the protective factors for the development of resilience, physical activity/exercise has been considered to play an important role. Exercise is known to induce many positive effects on the brain. As such, exercise represents an important tool to influence neurodevelopment and shape the adult brain to react to life's challenges. Among many beneficial effects, exercise intervention has been associated with cognitive improvement and stress resilience in humans and animal models. Thus, a growing number of studies have demonstrated that exercise not only recovers or minimizes cognitive deficits by inducing better neuroplasticity and cognitive reserve but also counteracts brain pathology. This is evidenced before disease onset or after it has been established. In this review, we aimed to present encouraging data from current clinical and pre-clinical neuroscience research and discuss the possible biological mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of physical exercise on resilience. We consider the implication of physical exercise for resilience from brain development to aging and for some neurological diseases. Overall, the literature indicates that brain/cognitive reserve built up by regular exercise in several stages of life, prepares the brain to be more resilient to cognitive impairment and consequently to brain pathology.

Keywords: brain reserve; brain resilience; cognitive reserve; exercise; neurological disorders; neuroprotection; physical activity; stress.

Publication types

  • Review