Effects of Exercise on Diseases and Disorders—Part 2: Exercise and the Brain

by Carmine Grieco, PhD, CSCS, and Mike Reeder DO
Personal Training Quarterly June 2017
Vol 4, Issue 2


Exercise is an underutilized therapy for the treatment of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. While exercise shows more promise for the prevention, rather than the treatment, of Alzheimer’s disease, exercise therapy compares favorably to the most common treatments of depression (psychotherapy and antidepressants).

Paywall block issue

This article is not configured properly for members or paid content.
isMemberOnly: {{isMemberOnly}} | isPaidContent: {{isPaidContent}}
spc: One or more parts of the product SPC is missing.

Read the full article

View the video

Login to view more

{{discountDesc}} Valid thru {{discountEnds}}

This {{ogType == 'video.other' ? 'video':'article'}} is available with a NSCA membership

This {{ogType == 'video.other' ? 'video':'article'}} can be purchased for {{prices}}
Price includes membership pricing and promotions

Purchase this {{ogType == 'video.other' ? 'video':'article'}}. Price range: {{prices}}
Price range includes membership pricing and promotions

Become a Member Add to Cart Login

This article originally appeared in Personal Training Quarterly (PTQ)—a quarterly publication for NSCA Members designed specifically for the personal trainer. Discover easy-to-read, research-based articles that take your training knowledge further with Nutrition, Programming, and Personal Business Development columns in each quarterly, electronic issue. Read more articles from PTQ »



1. Ahlskog, JE, Geda, YE, Graff-Radford, NR, and Petersen, RC. Physical exercise as a preventive or disease-modifying treatment of dementia and brain aging. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 86(9): 876-884, 2011.

2. Alzheimer’s Association. 2017 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Retrieved March, 20, 2017 from http://www.alz.org/ facts/#quickFacts.

3. American Psychiatric Association. Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depressive Disorder, 2010. Retrieved March 8, 2017 from https://psychiatryonline.org/pb/ assets/raw/sitewide/practice_guidelines/guidelines/mdd.pdf.

4. Baker, LD, Frank, LL, Forster-Schuber, K, Green, PS, Wilinson, CW, McTiernan, A, et al. Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: A controlled trial. Archives Neurology 67(1): 71-79, 2010.

5. Blumenthal, JA, Babyak, MA, Moore, KA, Craighead, E, Herman, S, Khatri, P, et al. Effects of exercise training on older adults with major depression. Archives of Internal Medicine 159(19): 2349-2356, 1999.

6. Cai, Y, and Abrahamsom, K. How exercise influences cognitive performance when mild cognitive impairment exists. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing 54(1): 25-35, 2016.

7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cognitive impairment: A call for action, now! Retrieved May 16 May 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/cognitive_impairment/ cogimp_poilicy_final.pdf.

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States, 2011-2014. Retrieved March, 20, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html.

9. Cho, J, Shin, MK, Kim, D, Lee, I, Kim, S, and Kang, H. Treadmill running reverses cognitive declines due to Alzheimer disease. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 47(9): 1814-1824, 2015.

10. Coe, DP, Peterson, T, Blair, C, Schutten, MC, and Peddie, H. Physical fitness, academic achievement and socioeconomic status in school-aged youth. Journal of School Health 83: 500-507, 2013.

11. Colcombe, SJ, Erickson, KI, Scalf, PE, Kim, JS, Prakash, R, McAuley, E, et al. Aerobic exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. The Journals of Gerontology 61(11): 1166-1170, 2006.

12. Connelly, JE, Hillman, CH, Castelli, D, Etnier, JL, Lee, S, Tomporowski, P, et al. Physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and academic achievement in children: A systematic review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 48(6): 1197-1222, 2016.

13. Cooney, GM, Dwan, K, Greig, CA, Lawlor, DA, Rimer, J, Waugh, FR, et al. Exercise for depression. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 12(9): 2013. 

14. DeFina, LF, Willis, BL, Radford, NB, Gao, A, Leonard, D, Haskell, WL, et al. The association between midlife cardiorespiratory fitness levels and later life dementia. Annals of Intern Medicine 158(3): 162-168, 2013.

15. Diamond, A. Effects of physical exercise on executive function: Going beyond simply moving to moving with thought. Annals of Sports Medicine Research 2(1):1011, 2015.

16. Donnelly, JE, Greene, JL, Gibson, CA, Smith, BK, Washburn, RA, Sullivan, DK, et al. Physical Activity Across the Curriculum (PAAC): A randomized controlled trial to promote physical activity and diminish overweight and obesity in elementary school children. Preventive Medicine 49(4): 336-341, 2009.

17. Erickson, KI, Prakash, RS, Voss, MW, Chaddock, L, Hu, L, Morris, KS, et al. Aerobic fitness is associated with hippocampal volume in elderly humans. Hippocampus 19(10): 1030-1039, 2009.

18. Etnier, JL, Salazar, W, Landers, DM, Petruzzello, SJ, Han, M, and Nowell, P. The influence of physical fitness and exercise upon cognitive functioning: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Physiology 19(3): 249-277, 1997.

19. Grissom, JB. Physical fitness and academic achievement. Journal of Exercise Physiology 8(1): 11-25, 2005.

20. Hillman, CH, Erickson, KI, and Kramer, AF. Be smart, exercise your heart: Exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9: 58-65, 2008.

21. Hillman, CH, Pontifex, MB, Raine, LB, Castelli, DM, Hall, EE, and Kramer, AF. The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience 159(3): 1044-1054, 2009.

22. Howie, EK, and Pate, RR. Physical activity and academic achievement in children: A historical perspective. Journal of Sport and Health Science 1: 160-169, 2012.

23. Kamijo, K, Khan, N, Pontifex, M, Scudderm MR, Drollette, ES, Raine, LB, et al. The relation of adiposity to cognitive control and scholastic achievement in preadolescent children. Obesity 20(12): 2406-2411, 2012.

24. Kantor, ED, Rehm, CD, Haas, JS, Chan, AT, and Giovannucci, EL. Trends in prescription drug use among adults in the United States from 1999 to 2012. Journal of the American Medical Association314(17): 1818-1831, 2015.

25. Kao, SC, Westfall, DR, Parks, AC, Pontifex, MB, and Hillman, CH. Muscular and aerobic fitness, working memory, and academic achievement in children. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise49(3): 500-508, 2016.

26. Keely, TJ, and Fox, KR. The impact of physical activity and fitness on academic achievement and cognitive performance in children. International Review of Sports and Exercise Physiology 2(2): 198-214, 2009.

27. Lakes, KD, and Hoyt, WT. Promoting self-regulation through school-based martial arts training. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 25: 283-302, 2004.

28. Lawlor, DA, and Hopker, SW. The effectiveness of exercise as an intervention in the management of depression: Systematic review and meta-regression analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMJ322(7289): 763-767, 2001.

29. Maddock, RJ, Casazza, GA, Fernandez, DH, and Maddock, MI. Acute modulation of cortical glutamate and GABA content by physical activity. Journal of Neuroscience 36(8): 2449-2457, 2016.

30. Marcus, SC, and Olfson, M. National trends in the treatment of depression from 1998 to 2007. Archives of General Psychiatry 67(12): 1265-1273, 2010.

31. Myer, GD, Faigenbaum, AD, Edwards, NM, Clark, JF, Best, TM, and Sallis, RE. Sixty minutes of what? A developing brain perspective for activating children with an integrative exercise approach. British Journal of Sports Medicine 49(23): 1510-1516, 2015.

32. Nagamatsu, LS, Handy, TC, Hsu, CL, Vossa, M, and LiuAmbrose, T. Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment: A 6-month randomized controlled trial. Archives of Internal Medicine 172(8): 666-668, 2012.

33. National Center for Health Statistics. Depression in the U.S. Household Population, 2009-2012. Retrieved March 10, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db172.htm.

34. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2015: With special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Hyattsville, MD. Retrieved December, 2016 from http://www.cdc. gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf#079.

35. National Institute on Aging. Exercise in Adults with Mild Memory Problems (EXERT). Retrieved May 17, 2017 from https:// www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/clinical-trials/exercise-adults-mildmemory-problems-exert.

36. Norton, S, Matthews, FE, Barnes, D, Yaffe, K, and Brayne, C. Potential for primary prevention of Alzheimer’s disease: An analysis of population-based data. Lancet Neurology 13(8): 788-794, 2014.

37. Pontifex, MB, Scudder, ES, Drollette, ES, and Hillman, CH. Fit and vigilant: The relationship between poorer aerobic fitness and failures in sustained attention during preadolescence. Neuropsychology 26(4): 407-413, 2012.

38. Raj, M. Obesity and cardiovascular risk in children and adolescents. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 16(1): 13-19, 2012.

39. Rethorst, CD, and Trivedi, MH. Evidence-based recommendations for the prescription of exercise for major depressive disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Practice 19(3): 204-212, 2013.

40. Sattelmair, J, and Ratey, JJ. Physically active play and cognition. An academic matter? American Journal of Play 365-374, 2009.

41. Schuch, FB, Vancampfort, D, Richards, J, Rosenbaum, S, Ward, PB, and Stubbs, B. Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research77: 42-51, 2016.

42. Singh, S, and McMahan, S. An evaluation of the relationship between academic performance and physical fitness measures in California schools. California Journal of Health Promotion 4(2): 207-214, 2006.

43. Smith, JJ, Eather, N, Morgan, PJ, Plotnikoff, RC, Faigenbaum, AD, and Lubans, DR. The health benefits of muscular fitness for children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med44(9): 1209-1223, 2014.

44. Smolarek, AC, Ferreira, LH, Mascarenhas, LP, McAnulty, SR, Varela, KD, Dangul, MC, et al. The effects of strength training on cognitive performance in elderly women. Clinical Interventions in Aging 11: 749-754, 2016.

45. Snider, M. Miracle-Gro for Brains. Retrieved 17 May, 2017 from http://johnratey.typepad.com/blog/2008/03/miracle-gro-for.html.

46. Stathopoulou, G, Powers, MB, Berry, AC, Smits, JAJ, and Otto, MW. Exercise interventions for mental health: A quantitative and qualitative review. Clinical Psychology 13(2): 179-193, 2006.

47. Ströhle, A, Schmidt, DK, Schultz, F, Fricke, N, Staden, T, Hellweg, R, et al. Drug and exercise treatment of Alzheimer disease and mild cognitive impairment: A systematic review and meta-analysis of effects on cognition in randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 23(12): 1234-1249, 2015.

48. Strong, WB, Malina, RM, Blimkie, CJ, Daniels, SR, Dishman, RK, Gutin, B, et al. Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth. Journal of Pediatrics 146(6): 732-737, 2005.

49. Woods, JA, Wilund, KR, Martin, SA, and Kistler, BM. Exercise, inflammation and aging. Aging and Disease 3(1): 130-140, 2012.

50. You, T, Arsenis, NC, Disanzo, BL, and LaMonte, MJ. Effects of exercise training on chronic inflammation in obesity. Sports Medicine 43: 243-256, 2013

Photo of Carmine R. Grieco III, PhD, CSCS,*D
About the author

Carmine R. Grieco III, PhD, CSCS,*D

Contact Carmine Grieco

Contact Carmine Grieco

Your first name is required.
Your last name is required.
Your email is required.
Your message is required.
Your reCaptcha is required.

Your email was successfully sent to Carmine Grieco

Carmine Grieco received his Doctoral degree from Old Dominion University at the age of 43 and is now an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Colorado ...

View full biography
About the author

Mike Reeder, DO

View full biography
#NSCAStrong #NSCAStrong

has been added to your shopping cart!

Continue Shopping Checkout Now