Neuroscience of Exercise

neuroscience exercise

The benefits of exercise

  • In children, college students and young adults, exercise or physical activity improves learning and intelligence scores
  • Moreover, exercise in childhood increases the resilience of the brain in later life resulting in a cognitive reserve
  • The decline of memory, cortex and hippocampus atrophy in aging humans can be attenuated by exercise
  • Physical activity improves memory and cognition
  • Exercise protects against brain damage caused by stroke
  • Exercise promotes recovery after brain injury
  • Exercise can be an antidepressant

The brain needs certain ingredients to flourish or to life up to the expectations of every day problems. The brain has priority when it comes to certain ingredients. A variety of foods can be beneficial for learning. Positive effects on brain function have been reported for fish oil, teas, fruits, folate, spices, cocoa, chocolate and vitamins.

How does exercise improve the brain?

  • With exercise the number of neurons increase in the hippocampus, a brain structure important to memory and learning.
  • Also synaptic plasticity increases in a certain part of the hippocampus due to exercise: the dentate gyrus.
  • Spine density increases in certain parts of the hippocampus.
  • Exercise also increases and improves the small blood vessels throughout the brain.
  • Exercise can change the function of neurotransmitters and can activate the monoamine system.

The effects of diet and exercise could be additive and/or synergistic. Exercise as well as caloric restriction can stimulate neurogenesis.The effects of dietary measure on neurogenesis is relatively small compared to exercise. The effects of polyphenolen on angiogenesis or improved vascularisation of the brain is superior to exercise. Overall the evidence for the effects of food on the brain are scarce and is in need of more research. It could be possible that exercise and nutrition can enhance each others actions on the brain.
van Praag, H. (2009). Exercise and the brain: something to chew on Trends in Neurosciences, 32 (5), 283-290 DOI: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.12.007