Exercise for Brain Health: An Investigation into the Underlying Mechanisms Guided by Dose

Danylo F. Cabral, Jordyn Rice, Timothy P. Morris, Tatjana Rundek, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Joyce Gomes-Osman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


There is a strong link between the practice of regular physical exercise and maintenance of cognitive brain health. Animal and human studies have shown that exercise exerts positive effects on cognition through a variety of mechanisms, such as changes in brain volume and connectivity, cerebral perfusion, synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and regulation of trophic factors. However, much of this data has been conducted in young humans and animals, raising questions regarding the generalizability of these findings to aging adults. Furthermore, it is not clear at which doses these effects might take place, and if effects would differ with varying exercise modes (such as aerobic, resistance training, combinations, or other). The purpose of this review is to summarize the evidence on the effects of exercise interventions on various mechanisms believed to support cognitive improvements: cerebral perfusion, synaptic neuroplasticity, brain volume and connectivity, neurogenesis, and regulation of trophic factors. We synthesized the findings according to exposure to exercise (short- [1 day-16 weeks], medium- [24-40 weeks], and long-term exercise [52 weeks and beyond]) and have limited our discussion of dose effects to studies in aging adults and aged animals (when human data was not available).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-599
Number of pages20
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 15 2019


  • Physical exercise
  • aging brain
  • cognitive brain health
  • exercise dose
  • older adults
  • physiological mechanisms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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