Towards an understanding of the physical activity-BDNF-cognition triumvirate: a review of associations and dosage

Erin Walsh, Lisa Smith, Joseph Northey, Ben Rattray, Nicolas Cherbuin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Physical activity has received substantial research attention due to its beneficial impact on cognition in ageing, particularly via the action of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It is well established that physical activity can elevate circulating levels of BDNF, and that BDNF has neurotrophic, neuroprotective and cognitively beneficial properties. Yet, practical implementation of this knowledge is limited by a lack of clarity on context and dose-effect. Against a shifting backdrop of gradually diminishing physical and cognitive capacity in normal ageing, the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity required to elicit elevations in BDNF, and more importantly, the magnitude of BDNF elevation required for detectable neuroprotection remains poorly characterised. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of the association between physical activity, BDNF, and cognition, with a focus on clarifying the magnitude of these effects in the context of normative ageing. We discuss the implications of the available evidence for the design of physical activity interventions intended to promote healthy cognitive ageing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101044
Pages (from-to)1568-1637
Number of pages41
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Mar 2020


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