Sports Medicine

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 91–100 | Cite as

Exercise and Brain Health — Implications for Multiple Sclerosis

Part 1 — Neuronal Growth Factors
  • Lesley J. WhiteEmail author
  • Vanessa Castellano
Leading Article


The benefits of regular exercise to promote general health and reduce the risk of hypokinetic diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles are well recognized. Recent studies suggest that exercise may enhance neurobiological processes that promote brain health in aging and disease. A current frontier in the neurodegenerative disorder multiple sclerosis (MS) concerns the role of physical activity for promoting brain health through protective, regenerative and adaptive neural processes. Research on neuromodulation, raises the possibility that regular physical activity may mediate favourable changes in disease factors and symptoms associated with MS, in part through changes in neuroactive proteins. Insulin-like growth factor-I appears to act as a neuroprotective agent and studies indicate that exercise could promote this factor in MS. Neurotrophins, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor likely play roles in neuronal survival and activity-dependent plasticity. Physical activity has also been shown to upregulate hippocampal BDNF, which may play a role in mood states, learning and memory to lessen the decline in cognitive function associated with MS. In addition, exercise may promote anti-oxidant defences and neurotrophic support that could attenuate CNS vulnerability to neuronal degeneration. Exercise exposure (preconditioning) may serve as a mechanism to enhance stress resistance and thereby may support neuronal survival under heightened stress conditions. Considering that axonal loss and cerebral atrophy occur early in the disease, exercise prescription in the acute stage could promote neuroprotection, neuroregeneration and neuroplasticity and reduce long-term disability. This review concludes with a proposed conceptual model to connect these promising links between exercise and brain health.


Multiple Sclerosis Nerve Growth Factor Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis BDNF mRNA Brain Health 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank Rudy Dressendorfer for his editorial contributions. We also thank Sean McCoy and Darpan Patel for assistance in preparing this manuscript. We thank people living with multiple sclerosis who provided inspiration for this manuscript. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of KinesiologyRamsey Center, University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Applied Physiology and KinesiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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