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  • Makaila Koshurba

Physical Activity & The Nervous System

Edited By: Naomi Abayomi

The Nervous System Overview The nervous system is a complex network that allows you to interact with your surroundings. It plays various roles:

  • Sensation –transmission, encoding, and perception of information from both the body and external environment

  • Movement – the ability to plan and execute movements

  • Cognition – attending to external stimuli or internal motivation and making the appropriate responses

FUN FACT: It is estimated that there are over 100 billion neurons (and even more supporting cells!) that perform all of these functions!

Physical Activity and Chronic Conditions of the Nervous System

  • There is evidence to show that physical activity can have beneficial effects on preventing and/or alleviating symptoms of various chronic conditions of the nervous system such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Huntington’s disease

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Multiple sclerosis

Physical Activity, Cognition and Neuroplasticity

  • Physical activity has been shown to have beneficial effects on executive functioning and memory

  • In more technical terms, physical activity facilitates neuroplasticity, particularly through neurogenesis (formation of new neurons), synaptogenesis (formation of new neural connections), and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels in the brain)

Other Effects of Physical Activity on the Nervous System

  • Physical activity can promote brain development in children

  • Physical activity can enhance brain structure and improve brain activity in adolescents

  • Physical activity facilitates learning in children and adolescents

  • There are associations between sleep duration, sleep quality and physical activity

In Summary…

  • Physical activity is great for your nervous system throughout the lifespan!

  • It is important to get moving to maintain your nervous system, to prevent chronic conditions of the nervous system, and to help manage symptoms of neurological conditions you may have

  • Stay tuned for how physical activity benefits other body systems!


Purves et al. (2012). Neuroscience: Fifth Edition. Print.

von Bartheld, C. S., Bahney, J., & Herculano-Houzel, S. (2016). The search for true numbers of neurons and glial cells in the human brain: A review of 150 years of cell counting. The Journal of comparative neurology, 524(18), 3865–3895.

Ruth Stephen, Kristiina Hongisto, Alina Solomon, Eija Lönnroos, Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 72, Issue 6, 1 June 2017, Pages 733–739,

Bonavita S. Exercise and Parkinson's Disease. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1228:289-301. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-1792-1_19. PMID: 32342465.

Wu PL, Lee M, Huang TT. Effectiveness of physical activity on patients with depression and Parkinson's disease: A systematic review. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 27;12(7):e0181515. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181515. PMID: 28749970; PMCID: PMC5531507.

Ascherio A, Schwarzschild MA. The epidemiology of Parkinson's disease: risk factors and prevention. Lancet Neurol. 2016 Nov;15(12):1257-1272. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(16)30230-7. Epub 2016 Oct 11. PMID: 27751556.

Hötting K, Röder B. Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Nov;37(9 Pt B):2243-57. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.04.005. Epub 2013 Apr 25. PMID: 23623982.

Herting, Megan M, and Xiaofang Chu. “Exercise, cognition, and the adolescent brain.” Birth defects research vol. 109,20 (2017): 1672-1679. doi:10.1002/bdr2.1178

Štefan L, Vrgoč G, Rupčić T, Sporiš G, Sekulić D. Sleep Duration and Sleep Quality Are Associated with Physical Activity in Elderly People Living in Nursing Homes. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Nov 9;15(11):2512. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15112512. PMID: 30423981; PMCID: PMC6266288.

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