Study Says Exercise Could Increase Neuroplasticity

Two people stretching on stationary bikesExercise could enhance neuroplasticity, according to a small study published in Current Biology.

Neuroplasticity is a measure of the brain’s ability to change with experience. When learning a new language or mastering an instrument, the brain may create new neural connections or increase the density of old ones. Neuroplasticity is vital for memory and learning. Brain plasticity tends to decline with age, particularly in brain regions that mediate sensory input.

Can Exercise Help the Brain Change?

Claudia Lunghi of the University of Pisa in Italy, one of the study’s co-authors, was inspired by previous research showing how physical activity could increase neuroplasticity in laboratory animals. Lunghi partnered with Alessandro Sale of the National Research Council’s Neuroscience Institute to test the role of exercise in neuroplasticity for humans.

The team recruited 20 adults to perform two deprivation tests. In the first, participants reclined in a chair and watched a movie with an eye patch over one eye. In the second test, participants—still wearing an eye patch—exercised on a stationary bike for 10-minute intervals during the movie.

After each trial, researchers tested the strength of each eye. Generally, a closed eye becomes stronger as the brain compensates for a lack of visual input, causing a difference in strength between both eyes and enabling researchers to measure new pathways in the brain. The unpatched eye was stronger in both groups, but the difference in strength was more pronounced in the group that exercised. This simple strength test is an indirect way to measure the plasticity of the visual cortex, because the eye’s ability to compensate for the patch represents a form of sensory neuroplasticity.

How Exercise Affects the Brain

Lunghi and Sale caution that more research is necessary to test these results. They hope their research could eventually help people with brain and eye conditions, including those with amblyopia—the technical term for lazy eye.

They believe GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, might explain the results. Exercise may reduce levels of GABA, and this reduction could make the brain more responsive and receptive to change.


  1. Lunghi, C., & Sale, A. (2015). A cycling lane for brain rewiring. Current Biology,25(23). doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.10.026
  2. Physical activity may leave the brain more open to change. (2015, December 10). Retrieved from

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  • dana

    December 10th, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    I think that there are a whole lot of ways in which the body can heal itself, but just like with anything else this is something that is not going to just happen, it has to be worked on and cultivated.
    No one wants to hear that because it is the work part that turns a lot of people off.
    We are all looking for the easy way out, and sometimes we fail to see that it would be a whole lot easier to get ourselves in shape now before medical problems start to really plague us.

  • Ramsey

    December 11th, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    The one thing that I know for sure that I have never heard anyone say is that exercise could be bad for you

  • alice t

    December 13th, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    All I know is that when I have gotten myself into a regular and habitual routine of adding exercise to my day I always feel better. Sure, there are some days when there are other things that I want to do or feel like doing, but you know what? I have made a life long commitment to having a good life and a healthy body and this is the one thing that I know for sure that will never hold me back from achieving these two things.

  • Olivia

    December 14th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Excellent news for all of my exercise trainer friends. Just one more study that they can point to with their clients to keep that encouragement going strong in those who are seriously wanting to make so real and meaningful life changes.

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