The neurostructural and neurocognitive effects of physical activity: A potential benefit to promote eating disorder recovery

Int J Eat Disord. 2021 Oct;54(10):1766-1770. doi: 10.1002/eat.23582. Epub 2021 Jul 14.


Accumulating evidence suggests that supervised and adapted physical activity provides cognitive benefits for individuals with eating disorders (EDs). The mechanisms underlying the benefits of physical activity are poorly understood. Addressing this knowledge gap may inform the appropriate integration of structured physical activity into eating disorders treatment and recovery. We draw attention to recent findings in the study of the impact of physical activity on the brain, and we describe the neurostructural and neurocognitive changes associated with physical activity observed in various clinical and nonclinical populations. Considering the identified impairment in brain volume- and/or neurocognitive function in various EDs, we propose that positive effects of physical activity may play a meaningful role in successful ED treatment. Accordingly, we outline research steps for closing the knowledge gap on how physical activity may aid in ED recovery, and emphasize the need to combine measures of cognitive and behavioral responses to physical activity, with technology capable of measuring changes in brain structure and/or function.

Keywords: BDNF; VEGF; anorexia nervosa; binge-eating disorder; bulimia nervosa; exercise; lactate; myokines; physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder*
  • Brain
  • Bulimia Nervosa*
  • Exercise
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / therapy
  • Humans