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Front. Psychol., 23 March 2012 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00086

The effects of aerobic activity on brain structure

  • 1 Functional MRI Facility, NIMH, NIH, DHHS, Bethesda, MD, USA
  • 2 Clinical Neurology, FMRIB, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  • 3 Section on Functional Imaging Methods, NIMH, NIH, DHHS, Bethesda, MD, USA

Aerobic activity is a powerful stimulus for improving mental health and for generating structural changes in the brain. We review the literature documenting these structural changes and explore exactly where in the brain these changes occur as well as the underlying substrates of the changes including neural, glial, and vasculature components. Aerobic activity has been shown to produce different types of changes in the brain. The presence of novel experiences or learning is an especially important component in how these changes are manifest. We also discuss the distinct time courses of structural brain changes with both aerobic activity and learning as well as how these effects might differ in diseased and elderly groups.

Keywords: exercise, plasticity, hippocampus, neurogenesis, angiogenesis, learning, environmental enrichment, aging

Citation: Thomas AG, Dennis A, Bandettini PA and Johansen-Berg H (2012) The effects of aerobic activity on brain structure. Front. Psychology 3:86. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00086

Received: 21 November 2011; Paper pending published: 17 December 2011;
Accepted: 05 March 2012; Published online: 23 March 2012.

Edited by:

David L. Wright, Texas A&M University, USA

Reviewed by:

Karen Zentgraf, University of Muenster, Germany
Keith Lohse, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA

Copyright: © 2012 Thomas, Dennis, Bandettini and Johansen-Berg. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Adam G. Thomas, National Institutes of Health, 10 Center Drive, Room 1D80, Bethesda, MD 20892-1148, USA. e-mail: adamt@nih.gov