Keynote Lecturer: Romain Meeusen
Exercise has an powerful influence on the brain. It is now well established that exercise will have a positive effect on brain health. Physical exercise can preserve cognitive function in elderly populations, promote functional recovery after central nervous system (CNS) traumatic injury, and induce neurogenesis in the adult CNS. Physical activity also increases trophic factor production in select regions of the brain. It is known that exercise increases brain neurotransmission and that repeated exercise (training) will influence baseline neurotransmitter release. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a crucial effector of experience-dependent plasticity. It is a neurotrophin that acts as a regulator of the survival, growth, and differentiation of neurons. Physical activity and, in particular, acute exercise and training seem to be key interventions to trigger the processes through which neurotrophins mediate energy metabolism and, in turn, neural plasticity. In search of mechanisms underlying plasticity and brain health, exercise is known to induce a cascade of molecular and cellular processes that support (brain) plasticity. BDNF could play a crucial role in these induced mechanisms. Therefore, since the early nineties, studies started to investigate the effects of physical activity, acute exercise and/or training on levels of BDNF. The first human studies examined the effects of exercise on peripheral BDNF in subjects with a neurodegenerative disease (i.e., multiple sclerosis patients) in order to explore the restorative potential of exercise in this particular disease. A dozen of other studies on the effects of acute exercise and/or training on BDNF in humans have been carried out, of which most concern healthy subjects. The purpose of the current paper is to provide an overview of the studies we performed on effect of physical activity on neurotransmission, thermoregulation and indicators of neurogenesis such as BDNF. Recently, new techniques emerge in order to measure brain activity during exercise. Techniques such as fMRI, EEG, NIRS etc. are helping to further elucidate the possible mechanisms behind the positive effects of exercise on the brain.