Can daily exercise enhance neurogenesis, brain plasticity, and improve brain function?

Although it’s a well-known fact that daily exercise can improve various physical and psychological health parameters; neuroplasticity, brain recovery, and improvement of brain function in relation to regular exercise have been a hot topic of research in the past few years.

Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity is an ability of the brain by which growth and reorganization are enforced in the brain as a part of the neural networks to thrive in such a way that ensures optimum functioning of the global processes within the brain. This, additionally, heavily affects cognitive plasticity since the manifestations of cognitive plasticity are highly dependent on neuro-plastic mechanisms.

Several animal models clearly show that daily exercise enforces neurogenesis and neuro-regeneration. One such study published in 2010 found a clear link between binge alcohol consumption and neurotoxicity in the hippocampus region and the surrounding cortex. However, the functional and structural deficits elicited by binge alcohol consumption were successfully reversed to some extent as a voluntary exercise in the rat models resulted in neurogenesis at the hippocampal region. This particular study also found that voluntary exercise influenced positive neuroprotective function in these rat models.

BDNF (growth factor, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), IGF-1 (hormone, Insulin-like Growth Factor 1), and VEGF (signal protein, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) are integral to brain development and maintenance. BDNF, IGF-1, and VEGF promote cellular changes in the brain and enforce gliogenesis, neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, and angiogenesis. Studies have shown that daily exercise can increase the levels of IGF-1 in young adults. However, the results were not very conclusive in elderly people. Research finds that chronic exercise may not increase IGF-1 levels in older subjects. However, chronic exercise has been shown to positively affect BDNF levels in populations across all ages. Regular exercise increases the efficiency of BDNF uptake by the Central Nervous System (CNS) and positively affects brain plasticity. At the molecular level, multiple studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise increases the peripheral concentration of BDNF, IGF-1, and VEGF.

Two important studies in the very recent past have concluded that regular exercise can increase brain function throughout life irrespective of age level. One such randomized, controlled trial study (RCT) considered 120 subjects over the age of 65 and found that 6 months of daily exercise not only reversed age-related hippocampal loss but also improved their cognitive function. Evidence also suggests that exercise can delay the start of several mental disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, and Depression. In addition, regular exercise has been shown to improve neurodegeneration, especially in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is caused as a result of abnormal protein buildup within the brain. One such protein is beta-amyloid which results in the formation of plaques around brain cells. Another aberrant protein buildup is Tau protein, deposits of which form misfolded and clumps of neurofibrillary tangles within brain cells. Multiple studies (animal models) suggest that regular chronic exercise in adults can help with the cleanup of beta-amyloid and prevent the accumulation of tau protein within the brain cells.

Therefore, it is evident that regular exercise improves neurogenesis, and brain plasticity across all ages and even helps delay the onset of mental disorders.

If you or anyone you know have been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, alcohol addiction, brain trauma, and cognitive deficiency or undergoing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, please contact Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678 or The Functional Medicine Center for Personalized Care, LLC ( at 201-880-8247 for our Integrative Mind-Body Health services.





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