Don't be intimidated: Even one exercise session can have positive brain effects

Posted By News On June 12, 2017 - 6:19pm

Exercise can be intimidating. Like not calling your grandmother because you don't want to be berated for not calling for so long, it can be hard to stop. But even if you only exercise once, it can have positive effects on mood, memory, attention, motor/reaction times, and even creativity. Understanding the immediate effects of a single bout of exercise is the first step to understanding how the positive effects of exercise may accrue over time to cause long-lasting changes in select brain circuits.

According to Wendy A. Suzuki, PhD, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science, New York University, "Exercise interventions are currently being used to help address everything from cognitive impairments in normal aging, minimal cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer's disease to motor deficits in Parkinson's disease and mood states in depression. Our review highlights the neural mechanisms and pathways by which exercise might produce these clinically relevant effects."

The investigators reviewed brain imaging and electrophysiological studies, including electroencephalography (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). They then turned to neurochemical studies, including lactate, glutamate and glutamine metabolism, effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis through cortisol secretion, and neurotrophins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Neurotransmitter studies of monoamines (dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine), acetylcholine, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) were reviewed, as well as neuromodulators such as endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids.

Their observations: First, the most consistent behavioral effects of acute exercise are improved executive function, enhanced mood, and decreased stress levels; Second, neurophysiological and neurochemical changes that have been reported after acute exercise show that widespread brain areas and brain systems are activated; Third, one of the biggest open questions in this area is the relationship between the central neurochemical changes following acute exercise, that have mainly been described in rodents, and the behavioral changes seen after acute exercise reported in humans.

Citation: Julia C. Basso et al, The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and?Neurochemical Pathways: A Review, Brain Plasticity (2017). DOI: 10.3233/BPL-160040