The Effect of Exercise on Neural Activation and Cognition: A Review of Task-Based fMRI Studies
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Numerous studies have stressed the importance of exercise in promoting physical and mental health and for aiding in cognition. Encouragingly, physical exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and to mitigate hemiparesis experienced by stroke patients. Additionally, today where over 1.9 billion are overweight, physical exercise is imperative to save lives and to mitigate the burden on the healthcare system. Although the benefits of physical exercise have been explored, the underlying mechanisms to enact these benefits have not been well-characterized. Here we review exercise-induced changes in regional brain activation and modulation. Paradigms differing in intensity, duration, and type of motor movement have been used to assess exercise effects on memory, cognition, and disease mitigation in youth and elderly populations. To evaluate exercise-induced changes in neural activity, the noninvasive imaging technique, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), is employed. fMRI is recorded either during or after exercise intervention. Post-exercise fMRI is often paired with in-bore tests of cognition to provide insight into the associated brain regions. Whereas, during intervention, fMRI is used to detail muscle-associated neural activation profiles. Characterization of the region and magnitude of brain activation has been used to perform comparative studies and identify specific characteristics from individuals with varying motor and cognitive abilities. Further fMRI and exercise research, with the use of these metrics, could facilitate the development of tools for disease diagnosis or to assess level of dysfunction or progression.
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