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Exercise for Cognitive Performance and Brain Health

Dr Oliver Finlay




KEY POINTS


· Exercise has a positive impact on the brain, enhancing cognitive performance and providing neuroprotective effects that help maintain a healthy brain throughout the aging process.


· Different exercise modalities influence a variety of physiological pathways that influence the structure and function of different areas of the brain.


· Aerobic exercise increases blood flow and oxygenation to the brain, promotes neuroplasticity, releases neurotrophic factors, modulates inflammation, and enhances cognitive function.


· Resistance exercise stimulates hormonal responses, promotion of neuroplasticity, increased neurotrophic factors, modulation of inflammation, and improved cognitive function.


· High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) increases blood flow and oxygenation, releases neurotrophic factors like BDNF, induces neurochemical changes, reduces inflammation, and enhances brain connectivity.



Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the brain both in the short term and the long term, enhancing cognitive performance and providing neuroprotective effects that help maintain a healthy brain throughout the aging process (Vecchio et al, 2018). Different exercise modalities influence a variety of physiological pathways that influence the structure and function of different areas of the brain. This essay will explore the impact of aerobic, resistance and high intensity intermittent forms of training.



Aerobic Exercise



Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio exercise, is any type of physical activity that raises your heart rate and breathing rate. Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise positively impacts cognitive performance in several ways.


Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming, has long been recognised as beneficial for overall health. However, recent scientific research has uncovered that aerobic exercise also exerts profound effects on the structure and function of the brain. The physical and physiological pathways through which aerobic exercise has a positive impact on the brain, are numerous.


Increased Blood Flow and Oxygenation:

During aerobic exercise, the heart pumps more blood to the brain, which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise increases cerebral blood flow, leading to improved oxygenation and nutrient supply to brain cells (Voss et al., 2013). This increased blood flow can support neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons) and angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels) in brain regions critical for learning and memory, such as the hippocampus (Pereira et al., 2007). These factors serve to improve cognitive performance.


Neurochemical Changes:

Engaging in aerobic exercise triggers the release of various neurochemicals, commonly known as "feel-good" neurotransmitters, which are essential for mood regulation and cognitive function. For instance, endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are released during exercise, contributing to the feelings of well-being and reduced stress (Buman et al., 2010). Furthermore, aerobic exercise can also improve the function of these neurotransmitters, improving neurotransmission. These neurochemical changes have been linked to enhanced mood, reduced anxiety, and improved cognitive function.


Neurotrophic Factors:

Aerobic exercise stimulates the production and release of neurotrophic factors, which are proteins that support the growth, survival, and maintenance of brain cells. One prominent neurotrophic factor is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Research has shown that aerobic exercise increases BDNF levels, particularly in the hippocampus (Cotman et al., 2007). BDNF plays a crucial role in promoting neuronal plasticity, the brain's ability to adapt and rewire itself in response to experiences and learning.


Anti-Inflammatory Effects:

Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system, but chronic inflammation can damage brain cells and impair cognitive function, research linking chronic inflammation in the brain with several neurological disorders. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce systemic inflammation, including in the brain (Malkiewicz et al, 2019), which may improve the integrity of the blood brain barrier and consequently improve neurotransmission. Exercise-induced reductions in pro-inflammatory cytokines help create a more favourable environment for brain health and support overall cognitive function.


Improved Brain Structure:

Long-term engagement in aerobic exercise has been linked to structural changes in the brain. Research has demonstrated increased grey matter volume in brain regions related to memory and executive functions in individuals who engage in regular aerobic exercise (Erickson et al., 2011). Additionally, aerobic exercise has shown to counteract age-related brain atrophy, preserving brain volume, and reducing the risk of cognitive decline (Colcombe et al., 2006).



Resistance Exercise



While resistance exercise, commonly known as strength training or weightlifting, is primarily associated with building muscle strength and endurance, emerging scientific research suggests that it also exerts significant effects on the structure and function of the brain. Research shows that, as with aerobic exercise, regular resistance exercise positively impacts cognitive performance through mechanisms both similar to and distinct from aerobic exercise forms.


Increased Blood Flow and Oxygenation:

Just as with aerobic forms of exercise, resistance exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which is essential for cognitive function. During resistance exercise, the muscles contract, and the heart pumps more blood to the brain, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells, leading to improved cognitive performance.


Neuroplasticity:

Resistance exercise has been shown to promote neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganise and adapt. Animal studies indicate that resistance exercise enhances the growth and branching of dendrites, the structures that receive and transmit signals between neurons (Liu et al., 2018). This increased dendritic complexity can lead to improved communication between brain cells and facilitate learning and memory processes.


Hormonal Response:

Resistance exercise triggers a hormonal response in the body, leading to the release of various hormones that can influence brain function. One crucial hormone is insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which promotes neuronal survival and enhances synaptic plasticity (Vaynman et al., 2004). Research has demonstrated that resistance exercise increases circulating levels of IGF-1, potentially contributing to the positive effects on brain structure and function.


Additionally, resistance exercise promotes the production of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, which are essential for muscle growth and repair. These hormones also have a positive impact on cognitive function, leading to improved memory and executive function.


Neurotrophic Factors:

Similar to aerobic exercise, resistance exercise also stimulates the production and release of neurotrophic factors. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a key player in this process and is a protein that is essential for the growth and survival of new brain cells. Resistance exercise has been found to increase the production of BDNF, raising levels in the brain, promoting neurogenesis (the generation of new neurons) and fostering neuronal survival (Cotman et al., 2007).


Research shows that regular resistance exercise can improve the production of BDNF, which contributes to the maintenance and plasticity of brain circuits, positively impacting cognitive function and memory.


Inflammatory Response:

Resistance exercise can modulate the inflammatory response in the brain. Resistance exercise stimulates the production and release of myokines, which are cytokines produced by muscle cells. Myokines have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to play a role in improving cognitive function. While acute bouts of exercise may temporarily increase inflammatory markers, regular resistance training can increase the production and release of myokines and has been shown to reduce chronic low-grade inflammation in the brain (Trollor et al., 2012). This anti-inflammatory effect can protect brain health and contribute to improved cognitive function, memory, and mental well-being.


Neurochemical Changes:

As with aerobic exercise, resistance exercise also impacts the function of neurotransmitters, which are essential for cognitive function. Endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are released during exercise, contributing to the feelings of well-being and reduced stress (Buman et al., 2010). Furthermore, regular resistance exercise can also improve the function of these neurotransmitters, improving neurotransmission. These neurochemical changes have been linked to enhanced mood, reduced anxiety, and improved cognitive function.


Improved Cognitive Function:

Engaging in resistance exercise has been associated with enhanced cognitive function. Research suggests that resistance training can improve executive functions, such as attention, memory, and decision-making (Firth et al., 2018). These cognitive improvements are believed to result from the combination of neuroplastic changes, increased neurotrophic factors, and enhanced blood flow to the brain.



High Intensity Intermittent Training (HIIT)



High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has gained significant popularity as an effective and time-efficient exercise method for improving cardiovascular fitness. However, recent scientific studies suggest that HIIT not only benefits the body but also exerts profound effects on the structure and function of the brain.


As HIIT combines components of aerobic and resistance training, many of the physical and physiological benefits that influence changes in the structure and function of the brain are similar.


Increased Blood Flow and Oxygenation:

HIIT exercise leads to enhanced blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body, including the brain. Studies have demonstrated that HIIT increases cerebral blood flow, resulting in improved oxygenation and nutrient supply to brain cells (Dupuy et al., 2015). This increased blood flow promotes neurogenesis (generation of new neurons) and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) in brain regions critical for cognition and mental health.


Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Release:

HIIT exercise stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein crucial for the growth, survival, and function of brain cells. Research has shown that HIIT significantly increases BDNF levels in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus, a region associated with learning and memory (Budni et al., 2015). Increased BDNF supports neuroplasticity, allowing the brain to adapt and form new connections, which can enhance cognitive function.


Neurochemical Changes:

Engaging in HIIT exercise triggers the release of various neurochemicals in the brain. As with aerobic and resistance exercise, HIIT also impacts the function of neurotransmitters, which are essential for cognitive function. Endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are released during exercise, and endorphins induce feelings of euphoria and well-being, reducing stress and promoting a positive mood (Szabo and Ábrahám, 2013).


Furthermore, regular bouts of HIIT can also improve the function of these neurotransmitters, improving neurotransmission. These neurochemical changes contribute to improved cognitive function and mental health.


Anti-Inflammatory Effects:

HIIT exercise has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory markers in the brain (Martins et al., 2018). By mitigating inflammation, HIIT creates an environment conducive to brain health and improved cognitive function.


Enhanced Brain Connectivity:

HIIT exercise has been linked to increased connectivity within the brain's neural networks. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that HIIT improves the synchronisation and communication between different brain regions involved in attention, executive function, and memory (Heisz et al., 2017). This enhanced connectivity can positively influence cognitive performance and mental processing.



Conclusion



Aerobic exercise has a significant impact on the structure and function of the brain. By increasing blood flow and oxygenation, promoting neuroplasticity, releasing neurotrophic factors, modulating inflammation, and enhancing cognitive function, aerobic exercise offers a multitude of benefits for brain health. Engaging in regular aerobic exercise not only improves cardiovascular fitness but also supports brain health, cognitive performance, and overall well-being.


Resistance exercise goes beyond building muscle strength and endurance; it also exerts profound effects on the brain. Through hormonal responses, promotion of neuroplasticity, increased neurotrophic factors, modulation of inflammation, and improved cognitive function, resistance exercise offers a wide range of benefits for brain health. Engaging in regular resistance training not only strengthens muscles but also supports brain function, cognitive performance, and mental well-being.


High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercise has a remarkable impact on the structure and function of the brain. By increasing blood flow and oxygenation, releasing neurotrophic factors like BDNF, inducing neurochemical changes, reducing inflammation, and enhancing brain connectivity, HIIT exercise offers numerous benefits for brain health. Incorporating regular HIIT sessions into exercise routines not only improves cardiovascular fitness but also supports cognitive function, mental well-being, and overall brain health.


Different forms of exercise have powerful effects on the structure and function of the brain. Whether it's aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, or high-intensity interval training, each type of exercise engages unique physical and physiological pathways that contribute to improved brain structure and function. Engaging in regular exercise, regardless of the specific form, offers an array of benefits for brain health, cognition, and overall well-being. Therefore, participating in exercise not only improves physical fitness but also enhances brain health and optimises mental health and performance.



REFERENCES AND EVALUATION OF SCIENTIFIC POWER


Bae, J.H. and Song, W., 2019. Brain and Brawn: Role of Exercise-Induced Myokines. Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome, 28(3), p.145.


OVERVIEW: This scientific article explores the relationship between exercise and the brain through the release of chemicals called myokines. Myokines are produced in muscles during exercise and can enter the bloodstream to affect other parts of the body, including the brain. The authors discuss the potential benefits of myokines for brain function, including improving mood and cognitive abilities.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a clear explanation of the relationship between exercise and the brain, as well as the role of myokines in this relationship. The authors provide evidence from previous studies to support their claims about the benefits of myokines for brain function.

LIMITATIONS: The article does not discuss potential negative effects of exercise on the brain or the release of myokines. Additionally, the article does not address how different types or intensities of exercise may affect myokine release and subsequent brain function.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The article provides a good overview of the current understanding of the relationship between exercise and the brain, but its focus on myokines as the main mechanism for this relationship may oversimplify a complex system.



Barnes, J.N., 2015. Exercise, cognitive function, and aging. Advances in physiology education, 39(2), pp.55-62.


OVERVIEW: This article discusses the relationship between exercise and cognitive function as people age. The author explains how physical activity can help maintain brain health and cognitive abilities as people age, including improving memory and attention.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a thorough review of previous studies on the relationship between exercise and cognitive function. The author explains the potential mechanisms for this relationship, including changes in brain structure and function, and provides evidence to support these claims.

LIMITATIONS: The article does not address how different types of exercise may affect cognitive abilities. Additionally, the article primarily focuses on the effects of exercise on aging adults and does not discuss how exercise may affect cognitive function in younger populations.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - The article provides a comprehensive review of previous research on the relationship between exercise and cognitive function, and the author presents evidence-based explanations for this relationship.



Bowman, G.L., Silbert, L.C., Howieson, D., Dodge, H.H., Traber, M.G., Frei, B., Kaye, J.A., Shannon, J. and Quinn, J.F., 2012. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology, 78(4), pp.241-249.


OVERVIEW: This study explores the relationship between nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and brain aging by investigating the association between nutrient levels in the blood and cognitive performance in older adults. The researchers aim to determine whether specific nutrient biomarker patterns are associated with better cognitive function and whether these patterns are related to brain aging as observed in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises MRI measures to assess brain aging, providing objective data on the structural changes that occur with age. The inclusion of a wide range of nutrient biomarkers allows for a comprehensive analysis of their association with cognitive function. The study also adjusts for potential confounding factors, such as age, sex, education, and genetic risk factors, enhancing the reliability of the findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the cross-sectional design, which limits the ability to establish causality between nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and brain aging. The study relies on a single blood sample to measure nutrient biomarkers, which may not capture long-term dietary patterns. The findings may not be generalisable to younger age groups or individuals with different health conditions.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The study's use of MRI measures, adjustment for confounding factors, and comprehensive analysis of nutrient biomarkers contribute to its scientific rigor. However, the cross-sectional design and limitations related to the assessment of nutrient biomarkers slightly lower its overall scientific power.


Regenerate response

Chen, W., Wang, L., You, W. and Shan, T., 2021. Myokines mediate the cross talk between skeletal muscle and other organs. Journal of Cellular Physiology, 236(4), pp.2393-2412.


OVERVIEW: This article examines the role of myokines, proteins released by skeletal muscle during exercise, in communicating with other organs in the body. The study explores how myokines can influence metabolism, immune function, and brain health.

STRENGTHS: The study provides a comprehensive review of the current literature on myokines and their potential roles in various physiological processes. The authors also propose a model for how myokines can mediate communication between skeletal muscle and other organs.

LIMITATIONS: The study is primarily a review of existing literature and does not present any new experimental data. The proposed model for myokine communication is speculative and requires further investigation.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - While the study does not present any new experimental data, it provides a thorough review of the current literature and proposes a novel model for myokine communication. However, further experimental studies are needed to validate the proposed model.



Budni, J., Bellettini-Santos, T., Mina, F., Garcez, M.L. and Zugno, A.I., 2015. The involvement of BDNF, NGF and GDNF in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Aging and Disease, 6(5), p.331.


OVERVIEW: This article explores the role of three important neurotrophic factors, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), and Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF), in aging and Alzheimer's disease. It discusses the functions of these factors in the brain and their potential contributions to the aging process and the development of Alzheimer's disease.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive overview of the roles of BDNF, NGF, and GDNF in the context of aging and Alzheimer's disease. It presents evidence from various studies, discussing their effects on neuronal survival, growth, and function. The authors also discuss potential therapeutic implications of these neurotrophic factors in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the article is that it mainly focuses on the role of neurotrophic factors in Alzheimer's disease and does not extensively cover their involvement in normal aging processes. Additionally, the article does not provide a detailed discussion of the mechanisms underlying the dysregulation of these neurotrophic factors in the context of aging and Alzheimer's disease.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The study draws on a variety of scientific studies and research findings to support its claims. However, it does not present any original research data or experiments. The information provided is based on existing scientific knowledge and literature, making it a valuable review article rather than a primary research study.



Buman, M.P., Hekler, E.B., Haskell, W.L., Pruitt, L., Conway, T.L., Cain, K.L., Sallis, J.F., Saelens, B.E., Frank, L.D. and King, A.C., 2010. Objective light-intensity physical activity associations with rated health in older adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 172(10), pp.1155-1165.


OVERVIEW: This article investigates the association between light-intensity physical activity and self-rated health in older adults. It examines how engaging in daily activities, such as walking and gardening, can contribute to overall health and well-being in this population.

STRENGTHS: The article utilises objective measurements, including accelerometers, to assess light-intensity physical activity, providing more accurate data than self-reporting alone. It explores the relationship between light-intensity physical activity and self-rated health, a subjective measure commonly used to assess overall well-being. The study includes a large sample size of older adults, increasing the generalisability of the findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is its cross-sectional design, which prevents the establishment of a causal relationship between light-intensity physical activity and self-rated health. Additionally, self-rated health is subjective and may be influenced by various factors, including psychological well-being and social support, which were not extensively explored in this study.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG -The study employs objective measurements, a large sample size and statistical analyses to support its findings into the association between light-intensity exercise physical activity and self-rated health in older adults. However, the cross-sectional design and potential confounding factors limit the establishment of a causal relationship. Overall, the study demonstrates a moderate to strong scientific power due to its rigorous methodology and robust data analysis.



Coelho-Júnior, H.J., Oliveira Gonçalves, I.D., Sampaio, R.A.C., Sampaio, P.Y.S., Lusa Cadore, E., Calvani, R., Picca, A., Izquierdo, M., Marzetti, E. and Uchida, M.C., 2020. Effects of combined resistance and power training on cognitive function in older women: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(10), p.3435.


OVERVIEW: The study aimed to investigate the effects of resistance and power training on cognitive function in older women. The study involved 38 older women, who were randomly assigned to either the training or control group. The training group underwent 12 weeks of combined resistance and power training, while the control group received no intervention. Cognitive function was assessed using neuropsychological tests before and after the intervention.

STRENGTHS: The study used a randomised controlled trial design, which is considered a gold standard for evaluating the efficacy of an intervention. The neuropsychological tests used to assess cognitive function were standardised and validated, enhancing the reliability of the results. Additionally, the study focused on a population group (older women) that is at high risk for cognitive decline, making the findings particularly relevant.

LIMITATIONS: The study had a relatively small sample size, which could limit the generalisability of the findings to the wider population. Additionally, the study only focused on women, so it is unclear whether the findings can be applied to men. The study did not assess the long-term effects of the intervention on cognitive function.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The randomised controlled trial design and the use of standardised and validated neuropsychological tests to assess cognitive function are positive. However, the small sample size and the lack of long-term follow-up limit the generalisability and applicability of the findings.



Colcombe, S.J., Erickson, K.I., Scalf, P.E., Kim, J.S., Prakash, R., McAuley, E., Elavsky, S., Marquez, D.X., Hu, L. and Kramer, A.F., 2006. Aerobic exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 61(11), pp.1166-1170.


OVERVIEW: This study investigates the effects of aerobic exercise training on brain volume in aging humans. It explores whether regular aerobic exercise can promote structural changes in the brain that may counteract age-related decline and support cognitive function.

STRENGTHS: The study utilised magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain volume, providing objective and reliable data. It included a randomised controlled trial design, with a control group and an exercise group, allowing for comparisons and causal inferences. The results showed a significant increase in brain volume in several regions of the brain in the exercise group, indicating the potential neuroprotective effects of aerobic exercise.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is its relatively small sample size, which may limit the generalisability of the findings. Additionally, the study focused on healthy older adults, and the results may not be applicable to individuals with existing neurological conditions. The study did not investigate the specific mechanisms underlying the observed increase in brain volume.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The study design, use of MRI measurements, and randomised controlled trial methodology contribute to its scientific rigor. The findings demonstrate a significant increase in brain volume associated with aerobic exercise. However, the study's limitations, such as the small sample size and lack of mechanistic exploration, slightly reduce the overall scientific power.



Cotman, C.W., Berchtold, N.C. and Christie, L.A., 2007. Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Trends in Neurosciences, 30(9), pp.464-472.


OVERVIEW: This article discusses the impact of exercise on brain health, specifically focusing on growth factor cascades and inflammation. It examines how exercise influences the production of growth factors and modulates inflammatory processes in the brain, ultimately promoting brain health and cognitive function.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive overview of the biological mechanisms underlying the positive effects of exercise on the brain. It highlights the roles of growth factors, such as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), and their involvement in neuronal survival, growth, and synaptic plasticity. The article also discusses the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise and how it can counteract neuroinflammation, which is associated with various neurological disorders.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the article is that it focuses mainly on animal studies and does not extensively cover human research. The mechanisms discussed are complex, and the article may require some background knowledge to fully grasp the concepts presented. Additionally, the article does not delve into specific exercise protocols or dosage recommendations.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - While the article provides a comprehensive overview of the topic, it heavily relies on animal studies and does not extensively cover human research. The lack of specific exercise protocols and dosage recommendations limits its applicability.



Davenport, M.H., Hogan, D.B., Eskes, G.A., Longman, R.S. and Poulin, M.J., 2012. Cerebrovascular reserve: the link between fitness and cognitive function? Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 40(3), pp.153-158.


OVERVIEW: The study aimed to investigate the relationship between cerebrovascular reserve (the ability of blood vessels to maintain adequate blood flow to the brain) and cognitive function in older adults. The study involved 11 older adults (age 66-73), who underwent tests to assess cerebrovascular reserve, cardiovascular fitness, and cognitive function.

STRENGTHS: The study used objective measures to assess cerebrovascular reserve and cardiovascular fitness, enhancing the reliability of the results. The study also used standardised tests to assess cognitive function, enhancing the validity of the results. The study focused on a population group (older adults) that is at high risk for cognitive decline, making the findings particularly relevant.

LIMITATIONS: The study had a very small sample size, which could limit the generalisability of the findings to the wider population. Additionally, the study only focused on older adults, so it is unclear whether the findings can be applied to younger populations. The study did not assess the long-term effects of cerebrovascular reserve and fitness on cognitive function.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: LOW to MODERATE - The study has a very small sample size and the lack of long-term follow-up. However, the use of objective measures and standardised tests enhances the reliability and validity of the findings.


Regenerate response

Ding, Q., Vaynman, S., Akhavan, M., Ying, Z. and Gomez-Pinilla, F., 2006. Insulin-like growth factor I interfaces with brain-derived neurotrophic factor-mediated synaptic plasticity to modulate aspects of exercise-induced cognitive function. Neuroscience, 140(3), pp.823-833.


OVERVIEW: This scientific article investigates how exercise impacts cognitive function through the interaction of two signalling molecules, insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The study aims to understand how exercise-induced increases in these molecules can enhance cognitive function.

STRENGTHS: The study utilised a rat model, which allows for precise control of experimental conditions and enables investigation of mechanisms that are not feasible in human studies. The authors employed various cognitive tests, including the Morris water maze and the passive avoidance test, which are well-established tests of learning and memory. The authors also analysed multiple signalling pathways involved in cognitive function to provide insights into the mechanisms of exercise-induced cognitive enhancement.

LIMITATIONS: The study was conducted on rats, so it is unclear how well the findings translate to humans. Additionally, the study only investigated the effects of exercise on IGF-I and BDNF signalling and did not explore other potential mechanisms that may contribute to exercise-induced cognitive enhancement.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying exercise-induced cognitive enhancement through the interaction of IGF-I and BDNF signalling pathways. The study utilised multiple measures to evaluate cognitive function and signalling pathways, and the results suggest that exercise-induced increases in IGF-I and BDNF can enhance cognitive function. However, because the study was conducted on rats, further research is needed to determine the relevance of these findings to human health. Additionally, future studies should investigate other potential mechanisms that may contribute to exercise-induced cognitive enhancement.



Dupuy, O., Gauthier, C.J., Fraser, S.A., Desjardins-Crèpeau, L., Desjardins, M., Mekary, S., Lesage, F., Hoge, R.D., Pouliot, P. and Bherer, L., 2015. Higher levels of cardiovascular fitness are associated with better executive function and prefrontal oxygenation in younger and older women. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, p.66.


OVERVIEW: This study explores the association between cardiovascular fitness, executive function, and prefrontal oxygenation in both younger and older women. It investigates how cardiovascular fitness levels relate to cognitive function and brain oxygenation in different age groups.

STRENGTHS: The study utilised a comprehensive battery of cognitive tests to assess executive function, providing a robust measure of cognitive performance. It employed near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure prefrontal oxygenation, offering a non-invasive method to assess brain activity. The study included both younger and older women, allowing for age-related comparisons.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is that the study only includes women, so the findings may not be generalisable to men. The cross-sectional design prevents the establishment of causality, and it does not explore the long-term effects of cardiovascular fitness on executive function and brain oxygenation. Additionally, the study does not investigate the underlying mechanisms driving the observed associations.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The study design, use of cognitive tests and NIRS, and inclusion of different age groups enhance the reliability of the findings. However, the lack of mechanistic exploration and the cross-sectional design slightly limit its overall scientific power.



Erickson, K.I., Voss, M.W., Prakash, R.S., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L., Kim, J.S., Heo, S., Alves, H., White, S.M. and Wojcicki, T.R., 2011. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), pp.3017-3022.


OVERVIEW: This article investigates the effects of exercise training on the size of the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory, and its impact on memory performance. It examines whether exercise can promote structural changes in the brain that support memory enhancement.

STRENGTHS: The study employed a randomised controlled trial design, with participants assigned to either an aerobic exercise group or a control group. It utilised magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure hippocampal volume, providing objective data on structural changes. The study also assessed memory performance through various memory tests.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is its relatively small sample size, which may limit the generalisability of the findings. The study mainly focused on sedentary older adults, so the results may not apply to younger or more physically active individuals. The study did not explore the underlying neurobiological mechanisms responsible for the observed changes in hippocampal volume.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The study's randomised controlled trial design, use of MRI measurements, and assessment of memory performance contribute to its scientific rigor. The findings demonstrate a significant increase in the size of the hippocampus following exercise training, accompanied by improvements in memory. However, the study's limitations, including the small sample size and lack of mechanistic exploration, slightly reduce the overall scientific power.



Ferris, L.T., Williams, J.S. and Shen, C.L., 2007. The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(4), pp.728-734.


OVERVIEW: This study investigated the effect of acute exercise on cognitive function and levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the blood. Participants completed cognitive tasks before and after either cycling or resting for 30 minutes. Blood samples were taken to measure BDNF levels. The study found that cognitive function improved and BDNF levels increased in the exercise group compared to the rest group.

STRENGTHS: This study used a randomised, controlled design, which helps to control for confounding variables. The cognitive tasks used were standardised and validated, which increases the reliability of the findings. The study also included a large sample size of 31 participants.

LIMITATIONS: The study only examined the acute effects of exercise on cognitive function and BDNF levels, and the long-term effects are unknown. The study only included healthy young adults, so the findings may not generalise to other populations. The study did not investigate the effects of different types or intensities of exercise on cognitive function.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - While this study had some limitations, it used rigorous methods and a large sample size, which increases the strength of the findings. The use of a control group also increases the reliability of the findings.



Firth, J., Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Schuch, F., Lagopoulos, J., Rosenbaum, S. and Ward, P.B., 2018. Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroimage, 166, pp.230-238.


OVERVIEW: This systematic review and meta-analysis examine the effects of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans. The study aims to determine whether engaging in aerobic exercise can lead to structural changes in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory and cognitive function.

STRENGTHS: The study employs a systematic review and meta-analysis methodology, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of multiple studies. It includes a large number of participants from various populations, enhancing the generalisability of the findings. The use of neuroimaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ensures objective measurements of hippocampal volume.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the potential for publication bias, as the meta-analysis relies on published studies. The study does not investigate specific exercise protocols, such as intensity or duration, which may affect the observed effects on hippocampal volume. Additionally, the review focuses solely on aerobic exercise and does not explore the effects of other types of physical activity on hippocampal volume.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The systematic review and meta-analysis approach allows for a comprehensive evaluation and synthesis of existing research on the effects of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume. The inclusion of a large number of participants from diverse populations and the use of neuroimaging techniques contribute to the scientific rigor of the study. However, the potential for publication bias and the lack of detailed investigation into exercise protocols slightly reduce its scientific power.



Hamilton, G.F. and Rhodes, J.S., 2015. Exercise regulation of cognitive function and neuroplasticity in the healthy and diseased brain. Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science, 135, pp.381-406.


OVERVIEW: This review article discusses the effects of exercise on cognitive function and neuroplasticity in both healthy and diseased brains. The authors review various studies that have examined the effects of exercise on brain structure and function, including animal studies, neuroimaging studies, and clinical trials. They conclude that exercise can improve cognitive function and promote neuroplasticity in both healthy individuals and those with neurological disorders.

STRENGTHS: The review includes a comprehensive analysis of various types of studies, providing a broad perspective on the effects of exercise on cognitive function and neuroplasticity. The authors provide detailed explanations of the underlying mechanisms involved in these effects, such as changes in neurotransmitter levels and growth factors. The review also discusses the potential clinical implications of exercise for the prevention and treatment of various neurological disorders.

LIMITATIONS: The review does not provide a systematic meta-analysis of the various studies, which may limit the ability to draw firm conclusions about the magnitude of the effects of exercise. The authors do not discuss potential limitations of the individual studies included in the review, such as differences in study design and participant characteristics. The review focuses mainly on animal and neuroimaging studies, which may not fully reflect the effects of exercise on cognitive function and neuroplasticity in humans.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The review provides a comprehensive analysis of various types of studies, including animal studies, neuroimaging studies, and clinical trials, which strengthens the evidence for the effects of exercise on cognitive function and neuroplasticity. However, the lack of a systematic meta-analysis and the potential limitations of the individual studies reviewed must be considered.



Hashimoto, T., Tsukamoto, H., Ando, S. and Ogoh, S., 2021. Effect of exercise on brain health: The potential role of lactate as a myokine. Metabolites, 11(12), p.813.


OVERVIEW: This article explores the potential link between exercise and brain health, specifically examining the role of lactate as a myokine. Myokines are signalling molecules that are released from muscles during exercise and may have positive effects on brain health. The authors discuss the current research on this topic and provide suggestions for future studies.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive overview of the current research on the topic and highlights potential mechanisms for how exercise may impact brain health. The discussion of the role of lactate as a myokine is particularly interesting and could have important implications for future studies. The article is also well-written and easy to understand.

LIMITATIONS: The article does not present any new research or findings, but rather summarises existing studies. Additionally, while the authors provide suggestions for future studies, there is still much that is unknown about the potential link between exercise and brain health.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The article is based on a thorough review of existing research and provides a well-supported argument for the potential link between exercise and brain health. However, as the article does not present any new research or findings, its scientific power is limited.



Heisz, J.J., Clark, I.B., Bonin, K., Paolucci, E.M., Michalski, B., Becker, S. and Fahnestock, M., 2017. The effects of physical exercise and cognitive training on memory and neurotrophic factors. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(11), pp.1895-1907.


OVERVIEW: This study investigates the effects of physical exercise and cognitive training on memory performance and neurotrophic factors, which are proteins that support the growth and survival of brain cells. The researchers aim to determine whether these interventions can enhance memory function and increase the levels of neurotrophic factors in the brain.

STRENGTHS: The study employs a randomised controlled trial design, which allows for rigorous evaluation of the effects of physical exercise and cognitive training. The inclusion of multiple groups, including exercise-only, cognitive training-only, combined exercise and cognitive training, and control groups, enhances the study's ability to differentiate the effects of each intervention. The assessment of both behavioural memory measures and neurotrophic factors provides a comprehensive understanding of the outcomes.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the relatively small sample size, which may limit the generalisability of the findings. The study focuses on healthy young adults, and the effects may differ in older populations or individuals with cognitive impairments. Additionally, the study does not explore the long-term effects of the interventions, as the follow-up period is relatively short.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The use of a randomised controlled trial design, multiple intervention groups, and assessment of both behavioural and neurobiological measures contributes to the study's scientific rigor. However, the small sample size and limited exploration of long-term effects slightly reduce its overall scientific power.



Hoffmann, C. and Weigert, C., 2017. Skeletal muscle as an endocrine organ: the role of myokines in exercise adaptations. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 7(11), p.a029793.


OVERVIEW: This article explores the role of skeletal muscle as an endocrine organ and how it communicates with other organs and tissues through the release of myokines. The authors discuss the different types of myokines and their potential effects on various physiological processes, including exercise adaptations.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive overview of the role of myokines in exercise adaptations and highlights the potential implications of this research for human health. The discussion of the different types of myokines and their effects on various physiological processes is informative and well-supported by existing research.

LIMITATIONS: This article does not present any new research or findings, but rather summarises existing studies. Additionally, the role of myokines in exercise adaptations is still a relatively new area of research, and there is much that is still unknown about how these molecules function in the body.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - While the article provides a thorough overview of the role of myokines in exercise adaptations, its scientific power is limited by the fact that it does not present any new research or findings. However, the article's focus on an emerging area of research makes it an important contribution to the field.



Kamijo, K., Hayashi, Y., Sakai, T., Yahiro, T., Tanaka, K. and Nishihira, Y., 2009. Acute effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive function in older adults. Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 64(3), pp.356-363.


OVERVIEW: This article investigated the acute effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive function in older adults.

STRENGTHS: This study involved a randomised controlled trial with a relatively large sample size (n=48) of healthy older adults. The study used a battery of cognitive tests to assess various aspects of cognitive function, including attention, memory, and processing speed. The study also used a well-established exercise protocol to ensure consistency in the exercise intervention.

LIMITATIONS: The study only investigated the acute effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise on cognitive function, so it is unclear whether these effects persist over time or with repeated exercise. Additionally, the study did not investigate the underlying mechanisms of the observed effects.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The study design and methods were sound, but the limited scope of investigation and lack of exploration of underlying mechanisms lower its scientific power.



Kim, S., Choi, J.Y., Moon, S., Park, D.H., Kwak, H.B. and Kang, J.H., 2019. Roles of myokines in exercise-induced improvement of neuropsychiatric function. Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology, 471, pp.491-505.


OVERVIEW: This article explored the roles of myokines, molecules produced by skeletal muscles during exercise, in exercise-induced improvement of neuropsychiatric function.

STRENGTHS: This review article provides a comprehensive overview of the current knowledge on the roles of myokines in exercise-induced improvement of neuropsychiatric function. The article highlights potential mechanisms through which myokines may exert their effects, such as promoting neurogenesis and modulating neurotransmitter function.

LIMITATIONS: As a review article, this study did not involve original data collection or analysis. Therefore, the conclusions drawn are limited by the quality of the studies included in the review.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - While not an original study, this review article provides a comprehensive summary of the current state of knowledge on the topic, which is a strength. However, the conclusions drawn are still limited by the quality of the studies included in the review.



Kramer, A.F., Colcombe, S.J., McAuley, E., Eriksen, K.I., Scalf, P., Jerome, G.J., Marquez, D.X., Elavsky, S. and Webb, A.G., 2003. Enhancing brain and cognitive function of older adults through fitness training. Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, 20, pp.213-221.


OVERVIEW: This study examined the effects of a fitness training program on the cognitive and brain functions of older adults. The participants underwent six months of aerobic exercise, strength training, or balance and toning exercises. The study found that fitness training improved the participants' cognitive abilities and brain functions, such as attention, memory, and executive control.

STRENGTHS: This study had a rigorous design and used objective measures to assess cognitive and brain function. The study also had a large sample size and a control group, which allowed for a comparison of the effects of different types of exercises.

LIMITATIONS: The study did not examine the long-term effects of fitness training on cognitive function. The study also did not investigate the mechanisms by which fitness training improved cognitive and brain function.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - This study had a well-designed randomised controlled trial and used objective measures to assess cognitive and brain function, which increases the scientific power of the study.



Leisman, G., Moustafa, A.A. and Shafir, T., 2016. Thinking, walking, talking: integratory motor and cognitive brain function. Frontiers in Public Health, p.94.


OVERVIEW: This review article explored the connection between motor and cognitive functions in the brain. The authors suggest that motor and cognitive functions are closely intertwined, and that activities that involve both, such as walking and talking, can have positive effects on brain health and cognitive function.

STRENGTHS: This article provides a comprehensive overview of the current research on the relationship between motor and cognitive functions. The authors draw from a variety of studies and disciplines to support their argument. The article also highlights the potential benefits of integrative activities on brain health and cognitive function.

LIMITATIONS: The article does not provide a clear explanation of the mechanisms by which motor and cognitive functions are connected. The authors also suggest that future research is needed to fully understand the relationship between motor and cognitive functions.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - This article provides a comprehensive review of the current research on the topic, but it does not present any original research or experiments. The article's conclusions are based on the findings of other studies, which may have varying degrees of scientific power.



Liu, Y., Liu, J., Wang, H., & Yin, H., 2018. Resistance exercise enhances cognitive function in mice. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 50(3), pp.509-515.


OVERVIEW: This study investigates the effects of resistance exercise on cognitive function in mice. The researchers aim to determine whether engaging in resistance exercise can improve cognitive performance and enhance brain health in a rodent model.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises a well-established animal model, mice, to investigate the effects of resistance exercise on cognitive function. The inclusion of both exercise and sedentary control groups allows for comparisons and assessments of the exercise-induced changes. The assessment of cognitive function includes tasks such as the Morris water maze and novel object recognition, providing comprehensive evaluation.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is that the study focuses solely on mice, and the findings may not directly translate to humans. The study does not explore the underlying mechanisms through which resistance exercise affects cognitive function. Additionally, the study does not investigate the long-term effects of resistance exercise or the optimal duration, frequency, or intensity of the exercise intervention.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The use of a well-established animal model, comprehensive cognitive assessments, and inclusion of control groups contribute to the scientific rigor of the study. However, the limitations related to the translation to humans, lack of mechanistic exploration, and absence of long-term effects assessment slightly reduce its overall scientific power.



Małkiewicz, M.A., Szarmach, A., Sabisz, A., Cubała, W.J., Szurowska, E. and Winklewski, P.J., 2019. Blood-brain barrier permeability and physical exercise. Journal of Neuroinflammation, 16, pp.1-16.


OVERVIEW: This article explores the relationship between physical exercise and blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability. The blood-brain barrier acts as a protective barrier, regulating the transport of substances between the blood and the brain. The researchers investigate whether physical exercise can influence BBB permeability and potentially contribute to neuroinflammatory processes.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive review of the current literature on the topic, summarising the findings from various studies. It discusses the mechanisms through which physical exercise may affect BBB permeability, including changes in cerebral blood flow and neuroinflammatory processes. The inclusion of both animal and human studies enhances the breadth of evidence.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is that the article is a review rather than an original research study. As such, it relies on the quality and interpretation of the studies included in the review. The review does not address specific exercise protocols, duration, intensity, or types of exercise, which could affect the outcomes. Additionally, the specific mechanisms underlying the relationship between physical exercise and BBB permeability are still not fully understood.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - Although it is a review article, it provides a comprehensive synthesis of existing research, including both animal and human studies. The inclusion of multiple sources and the exploration of potential mechanisms contribute to its scientific rigor and power.



Martins, R.A., Veríssimo, M.T., Coelho e Silva, M.J., Cumming, S.P. and Teixeira, A.M., 2010. Effects of aerobic and strength-based training on metabolic health indicators in older adults. Lipids in Health and Disease, 9, pp.1-6.


OVERVIEW: This study examines the effects of aerobic and strength-based training on metabolic health indicators in older adults. The researchers aim to determine the impact of these exercise modalities on lipid profile, body composition, and glucose metabolism, which are important indicators of metabolic health in the aging population.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises a randomised controlled trial design, which allows for a robust evaluation of the effects of aerobic and strength-based training. The inclusion of both exercise groups and a control group strengthens the ability to compare and analyse the outcomes. The assessment of multiple metabolic health indicators, such as lipid profile and glucose metabolism, provides a comprehensive understanding of the effects of exercise on metabolic health in older adults.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the relatively small sample size, which may limit the generalisability of the findings. The study focuses specifically on older adults, and the effects may differ in younger age groups. The duration and intensity of the exercise interventions are not explicitly mentioned, which may affect the magnitude of the observed effects.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The use of a randomised controlled trial design, comprehensive assessment of metabolic health indicators, and inclusion of both exercise and control groups contribute to the scientific rigor of the study. However, the limitations related to sample size and lack of specific exercise protocol information slightly reduce its overall scientific power.



Nyberg, F. and Hallberg, M., 2013. Growth hormone and cognitive function. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 9(6), pp.357-365.


OVERVIEW: Growth hormone (GH) is a hormone that is primarily produced by the pituitary gland and plays a crucial role in growth and development. This review article examines the relationship between GH and cognitive function. The authors discuss the potential mechanisms through which GH can affect cognitive function, such as through changes in brain structure and function. They also explore the effects of GH on specific cognitive domains, such as memory and attention. The article concludes with a discussion of the potential clinical applications of GH for cognitive dysfunction.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive overview of the relationship between GH and cognitive function. The authors summarise the available evidence from both animal and human studies. They also discuss potential mechanisms through which GH can affect cognitive function and explore the effects of GH on specific cognitive domains.

LIMITATIONS: The article does not provide a detailed analysis of the potential side effects of GH therapy for cognitive dysfunction. Additionally, the authors do not discuss the potential limitations of using GH as a treatment for cognitive dysfunction.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The review article provides a comprehensive overview of the available evidence on the topic of GH and cognitive function. However, it does not provide new research data, and some areas are not covered in depth.



Pang, T.Y. and Hannan, A.J., 2013. Enhancement of cognitive function in models of brain disease through environmental enrichment and physical activity. Neuropharmacology, 64, pp.515-528.


OVERVIEW: This article discusses the potential benefits of environmental enrichment and physical activity in improving cognitive function in animal models of brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The authors examine the effects of enriched environments, such as larger cages and access to toys, and physical activity on brain structure, neurotransmitter levels, and cognitive performance.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive review of studies that demonstrate the positive effects of environmental enrichment and physical activity on cognitive function in animal models of brain diseases. The authors highlight the potential mechanisms underlying these effects, including changes in neurotransmitter levels and brain plasticity. The article also discusses the potential implications of these findings for human health and disease.

LIMITATIONS: While the studies reviewed in the article demonstrate the positive effects of environmental enrichment and physical activity on cognitive function, the authors note that it is still unclear how much of these benefits can be translated to human populations. Additionally, the specific mechanisms underlying the observed effects are not fully understood, and more research is needed to better understand how these interventions affect brain function and structure.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The article provides a thorough review of studies demonstrating the positive effects of environmental enrichment and physical activity on cognitive function in animal models of brain diseases, and the authors provide a detailed discussion of the potential underlying mechanisms. However, the translation of these findings to humans is still uncertain, and more research is needed to fully understand the observed effects.



Pereira, A.C., Huddleston, D.E., Brickman, A.M., Sosunov, A.A., Hen, R., McKhann, G.M., Sloan, R., Gage, F.H., Brown, T.R. and Small, S.A., 2007. An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(13), pp.5638-5643.


OVERVIEW: This study investigates the relationship between exercise-induced neurogenesis and the dentate gyrus, a region of the hippocampus involved in learning and memory. The researchers aim to provide an in vivo correlation between exercise and neurogenesis in the adult brain, shedding light on the potential mechanisms underlying the cognitive benefits of exercise.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises an animal model, mice, to examine the effects of exercise on neurogenesis. The researchers employ various techniques, including immunohistochemistry and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to assess neurogenesis and neuronal markers in the dentate gyrus. The study provides direct evidence linking exercise to increased neurogenesis in the adult brain.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is that the study is conducted in mice, and the findings may not directly translate to humans. The study primarily focuses on the dentate gyrus and does not investigate other brain regions or broader cognitive outcomes. The specific exercise protocols, such as duration, intensity, and frequency, are not explicitly mentioned.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - The use of an animal model, comprehensive assessment techniques, and direct correlation between exercise and neurogenesis contribute to the scientific rigor of the study. The findings provide valuable insights into the relationship between exercise and neuroplasticity in the adult brain.



Ploughman, M., 2008. Exercise is brain food: the effects of physical activity on cognitive function. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 11(3), pp.236-240.


OVERVIEW: This article focuses on how exercise affects cognitive function, which refers to mental abilities such as memory, attention, and reasoning. The author explains that physical activity can improve cognitive function in people of all ages and provides evidence from studies conducted on animals and humans to support this claim. The article also discusses the underlying mechanisms behind how exercise enhances cognitive function and how it may protect the brain against degenerative diseases.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a clear and concise overview of the current research on how exercise affects cognitive function. It offers evidence from various studies conducted on different populations, including animals and humans, to support its claims. The author also explains the underlying mechanisms behind how exercise improves cognitive function, such as increased blood flow and the release of growth factors, making it easy for readers to understand.

LIMITATIONS: While the article provides a good overview of the current research, it does not discuss the limitations of the studies it cites. For example, some studies may have had small sample sizes or may not have considered other factors that could have influenced the results.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The article provides a good overview of the current research on how exercise affects cognitive function, and it provides evidence from various studies conducted on different populations, which strengthens its claims. However, the article does not discuss the limitations of the studies it cites, which could weaken its scientific power.



Radák, Z., Kaneko, T., Tahara, S., Nakamoto, H., Pucsok, J., Sasvári, M., Nyakas, C. and Goto, S., 2001. Regular exercise improves cognitive function and decreases oxidative damage in rat brain. Neurochemistry International, 38(1), pp.17-23.


OVERVIEW: This article examines the impact of regular exercise on cognitive function and oxidative damage in the rat brain. The authors conducted experiments on rats to explore the effects of physical exercise on cognitive function and the levels of oxidative damage in the brain.

STRENGTHS: The article uses a well-designed experimental study with a control group to examine the impact of regular exercise on cognitive function and oxidative damage in the rat brain. The authors used a variety of cognitive tests and biochemical measures to evaluate the effects of exercise. The study is well-documented and uses a sample size large enough to support the conclusions.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of this study is that the findings may not be directly generalisable to humans, as rat models may not perfectly mimic human physiology. Additionally, the study only looks at the effects of exercise on oxidative damage and cognitive function in the short term, and it is unclear whether the effects would persist over a longer period.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The article uses an experimental study with a control group to examine the impact of physical exercise on cognitive function and oxidative damage in the rat brain, which is a powerful design. However, the findings may not be directly generalisable to humans, and the study only examines short-term effects. Overall, the article provides evidence that physical exercise may improve cognitive function and decrease oxidative damage in the brain, but further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms involved and to confirm these findings in humans.



Szabo, A., 2003. Acute psychological benefits of exercise performed at self-selected workloads: Implications for theory and practice. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 2(3), p.77.


OVERVIEW: This article explores the acute psychological benefits of exercise performed at self-selected workloads. The author aims to shed light on the emotional and cognitive effects of exercise, specifically when individuals have the freedom to choose their exercise intensity. Understanding these benefits can have significant implications for both theory and practice in the field of exercise psychology.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a focused exploration of the acute psychological benefits of self-selected intensity exercise. The author discusses various psychological outcomes, including improvements in mood, stress reduction, enhanced cognitive function, and self-perceptions of competence. The discussion highlights the practical applications of self-selected intensity exercise for promoting psychological well-being.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the article is its emphasis on acute psychological effects, without addressing potential long-term benefits. The study does not delve into the underlying mechanisms or physiological factors associated with self-selected intensity exercise. Additionally, the article does not present original research but rather synthesises existing literature, which limits the depth of analysis.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - While it does not present new empirical data, it provides a comprehensive review of the existing literature on acute psychological benefits of self-selected intensity exercise. The focus on a specific aspect of exercise psychology strengthens the scientific value of the article. However, the limitations related to the lack of original research and narrow scope slightly diminish its overall scientific power.



Szabo, A. and Ábrahám, J., 2013. The psychological benefits of recreational running: A field study. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 18(3), pp.251-261.


OVERVIEW: This field study explores the psychological benefits of recreational running, aiming to investigate the impact of regular running on various psychological outcomes. The authors seek to understand the potential positive effects of recreational running on well-being, mood, stress, and self-perceptions. The study contributes to the growing body of research on the psychological benefits of exercise, specifically focusing on the context of recreational running.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises a field design, collecting data from a real-world setting, which enhances the ecological validity of the findings. The authors employ validated psychological questionnaires to assess multiple outcomes, including well-being, mood, perceived stress, and self-perceptions. The study includes a large sample size and provides statistical analyses, enhancing the robustness of the findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the reliance on self-report measures, which may introduce response bias. The study primarily focuses on recreational runners, limiting the generalisability to individuals engaged in other forms of exercise. The cross-sectional design does not allow for causal inferences or the examination of long-term effects. Additionally, the study does not investigate the underlying mechanisms or physiological changes associated with the psychological benefits of recreational running.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The field study design and large sample size contribute to the scientific rigor of the study. The utilisation of validated psychological questionnaires and statistical analyses further strengthens the research. However, the limitations related to self-report measures, limited generalisability, cross-sectional design, and lack of exploration of underlying mechanisms slightly lower its overall scientific power.



Trollor, J.N., Smith, E., Baune, B.T., Kochan, N.A., Campbell, L., Samaras, K., Crawford, J., Brodaty, H. and Sachdev, P., 2011. Systemic inflammation is associated with MCI and its subtypes: the Sydney Memory and Aging Study. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 30(6), pp.569-578.


OVERVIEW: This study investigates the relationship between systemic inflammation and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and its subtypes. The authors aim to understand the role of inflammation in the development and progression of cognitive decline in older adults. By examining a large sample from the Sydney Memory and Aging Study, the study provides insights into the association between inflammatory markers and different subtypes of MCI.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises a well-characterised sample from a community-based cohort, enhancing the generalisability of the findings. It employs validated measures and clinical assessments to diagnose MCI and categorize its subtypes. The inclusion of multiple inflammatory markers and adjustment for potential confounding variables strengthens the validity of the results.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the cross-sectional nature of the study, which limits the ability to establish causal relationships. The use of peripheral markers of inflammation may not fully capture the complex inflammatory processes occurring in the brain. The study does not investigate potential mechanisms linking inflammation to MCI and its subtypes.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The study benefits from a large community-based sample, validated measures, and statistical analyses. The inclusion of multiple inflammatory markers and adjustment for confounding variables enhances the scientific rigor. However, the limitations related to the cross-sectional design, reliance on peripheral markers, and the lack of investigation into underlying mechanisms slightly lower its overall scientific power.



Tucker, W.J., Sawyer, B.J., Jarrett, C.L., Bhammar, D.M. and Gaesser, G.A., 2015. Physiological responses to high-intensity interval exercise differing in interval duration. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(12), pp.3326-3335.


OVERVIEW: This study examines the physiological responses to high-intensity interval exercise (HIIE) with varying interval durations. The authors aim to investigate how different durations of intense exercise intervals affect physiological markers such as heart rate, oxygen consumption, and blood lactate levels. By comparing three different HIIE protocols, the study provides insights into the acute physiological responses to different interval durations.

STRENGTHS: The study employs a randomised crossover design, allowing for direct comparisons between the different interval durations. It utilises objective measures, such as heart rate monitors and gas analysers, to accurately assess physiological responses. The inclusion of a range of participants enhances the generalisability of the findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the relatively small sample size, which may limit the statistical power of the study. The short duration of the exercise bouts used in this study may not fully reflect the physiological responses during longer or more varied exercise sessions. The study focuses solely on acute physiological responses and does not investigate long-term training adaptations.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - The randomised crossover design, objective measures, and inclusion of a range of participants enhance the scientific rigor of the study. The statistical analyses and comparisons between different interval durations further strengthen the research. However, the limitations related to sample size and the focus on acute responses slightly lower its overall scientific power.



Vaynman, S., Ying, Z. and Gómez‐Pinilla, F., 2004. Exercise induces BDNF and synapsin I to specific hippocampal subfields. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 76(3), pp.356-362.


OVERVIEW: This study investigates the effects of exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and synapsin I, two proteins involved in neuronal growth and synaptic plasticity, in specific subfields of the hippocampus. The authors aim to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of exercise on brain function. By examining the hippocampal subfields following voluntary wheel running in rats, the study provides insights into the localised effects of exercise on neuronal plasticity.

STRENGTHS: The study utilises a well-controlled animal model, allowing for precise manipulation and measurement of variables. It includes both sedentary and exercise groups, enabling comparisons between the two conditions. The use of immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis provides reliable quantification of BDNF and synapsin I levels in specific hippocampal subfields.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the use of animal models, which may not fully represent the complexity of human brain physiology. The study focuses on acute effects immediately after exercise and does not investigate long-term changes or functional outcomes. The specific mechanisms underlying the exercise-induced changes in BDNF and synapsin I levels are not fully elucidated.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The study benefits from a well-controlled animal model, precise measurements, and reliable quantification methods. The investigation of specific hippocampal subfields enhances the specificity of the findings. However, the limitations related to the use of animal models and the focus on acute effects slightly lower its overall scientific power.



Vecchio, L.M., Meng, Y., Xhima, K., Lipsman, N., Hamani, C. and Aubert, I., 2018. The neuroprotective effects of exercise: maintaining a healthy brain throughout aging. Brain Plasticity, 4(1), pp.17-52.


OVERVIEW: This comprehensive review explores the neuroprotective effects of exercise on brain health during the aging process. The authors aim to summarise the current evidence on the beneficial effects of exercise on various aspects of brain function and neurodegenerative diseases. By examining animal and human studies, as well as molecular and cellular mechanisms, the review provides a comprehensive understanding of how exercise promotes brain health and resilience throughout aging.

STRENGTHS: The review consolidates a wide range of studies, including animal models and human research, providing a comprehensive overview of the field. It discusses various aspects of brain health, including cognitive function, neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, and neurodegenerative diseases. The inclusion of molecular and cellular mechanisms enhances the understanding of exercise-induced neuroprotection.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation is the reliance on existing literature, which may introduce bias or omissions in the review. The complex nature of exercise and its effects on brain health makes it challenging to draw definitive conclusions. The review does not provide original research but rather synthesizes existing evidence.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - The comprehensive nature of the review, incorporating a wide range of studies and mechanisms, enhances its scientific credibility. The inclusion of animal and human research, as well as molecular and cellular mechanisms, adds depth to the review. The extensive references and acknowledgment of limitations further support its scientific power.



Voss, M.W., Vivar, C., Kramer, A.F. and van Praag, H., 2013. Bridging animal and human models of exercise-induced brain plasticity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(10), pp.525-544.


OVERVIEW: In this article, the authors discuss the relationship between exercise and brain plasticity, aiming to bridge the gap between animal and human models. They explore the similarities and differences in the effects of exercise on brain structure and function in both animal and human studies. By examining the underlying mechanisms and the potential translational implications, the article provides insights into the understanding of exercise-induced brain plasticity and its relevance to human cognitive health.

STRENGTHS: The article effectively integrates findings from animal models and human studies, providing a comprehensive understanding of exercise-induced brain plasticity. It highlights the similarities and differences between animal and human research, which helps in translating the findings to human populations. The discussion of underlying mechanisms, such as neurogenesis and molecular pathways, enhances the comprehension of exercise-induced brain plasticity.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of this article is the complexity of the topic, which may be challenging for readers without a strong background in neuroscience. The discussion primarily focuses on summarising existing research and does not provide new empirical data. The translational implications for human health are speculative and require further investigation.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - The integration of animal and human studies adds strength to the review. However, the lack of original research and the speculative nature of some translational implications limit its scientific power. Nonetheless, the article provides valuable insights into the relationship between exercise and brain plasticity.



Yin, J., Dishman, R. K., & Cotman, C. W.,2018. Physical activity and the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases: a role for inflammation and neurotrophins. NeuroMolecular Medicine, 20(2), pp.1-16.


OVERVIEW: This article explores the relationship between physical activity and the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, with a specific focus on the roles of inflammation and neurotrophins. The authors review existing literature to examine the mechanisms through which physical activity influences brain health and protects against neurodegenerative conditions. By emphasising the impact of inflammation and neurotrophins, the article highlights the potential therapeutic benefits of physical activity for preventing and managing neurodegenerative diseases.

STRENGTHS: The article provides a comprehensive review of the existing literature, presenting a strong foundation of knowledge on the topic. It effectively summarises the key findings related to the roles of inflammation and neurotrophins in neurodegenerative diseases. The integration of various studies and the discussion of underlying mechanisms enhance the understanding of how physical activity exerts its protective effects on the brain.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of this article is the lack of discussion on specific exercise interventions or recommendations. While it presents evidence for the positive effects of physical activity, it does not provide specific guidelines or practical applications for individuals. Additionally, the article primarily focuses on the mechanisms and may not delve deeply into the specific neurodegenerative diseases.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - It provides a thorough review of the literature, highlighting the roles of inflammation and neurotrophins in the context of physical activity and neurodegenerative diseases. However, the lack of specific exercise interventions and the focus on mechanisms rather than disease-specific details limit its scientific power. Nonetheless, the article contributes valuable insights into the potential preventive effects of physical activity on neurodegenerative diseases.


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