The effects of exercise on cognitive function and brain plasticity - a feasibility trial

Joyce Gomes-Osman, Danylo F. Cabral, Carrie Hinchman, Ali Jannati, Timothy P. Morris, Alvaro Pascual-Leone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Exercise-mediated cognitive improvements can be at least partly attributed to neuroplastic changes in the nervous system, and may be influenced by the Val66Met polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be used to assess mechanisms of plasticity in humans noninvasively. Objectives: To assess the feasibility of evaluating the effects of short-term regular exercise on cognitive performance, and to evaluate the relationship between these effects, TMS measures of plasticity, and BDNF Met carrier status in young healthy sedentary adults. Methods: Of the 19 participants who enrolled in the study, 14 sedentary adults (12 females, age mean±SD, 27±12.3 yr), with less than two sessions of physical exercise in the preceding 2 months, completed an aerobic exercise regimen including four 30-min daily sessions per week for 4 weeks (for a total of 16 sessions) delivered at 55-64% of age-predicted maximal heart rate. Prior to and following the exercise regimen, participants performed a neuropsychological test battery and an intermittent theta-burst TMS plasticity protocol. Results: All participants completed the various measures and adhered to the exercise regimen. There were no complications and the results obtained were reliable. The feasibility of the approach is thus well established. Between-group comparisons of pre-post change revealed trends toward increased performance on the Stroop and faster reaction times in the CPT detectability in theVal66Val subgroup (p = 0.07 and p = 0.08), and a reduction in TBS-induced modulation ofTMSresponses in Met carriers (p = 0.07). Conclusion: Acute exercise interventions in sedentary adults can be meaningfully conducted along with cognitive and neurophysiologic measures to assess behavioral and neurobiological effects and assessment of BDNF polymorphism. TMS measures of plasticity can be used to evaluate the effects of exercise on brain plasticity, and relate them to neuropsychological measures of cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-556
Number of pages10
JournalRestorative Neurology and Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2017


  • Aerobic exercise
  • BDNF
  • cognition
  • iTBS
  • plasticity
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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