Acute aerobic exercise and neuroplasticity of the motor cortex: A systematic review

Maddison L. Mellow, Mitchell R. Goldsworthy, Scott Coussens, Ashleigh E. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

6 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To synthesise the existing literature investigating if acute aerobic exercise enhances the response to experimentally-induced neuroplasticity paradigms. Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases Medline, PsycInfo and Embase was undertaken on 26 April 2018 and updated on 17 May 2019. Studies were included if they involved a bout of aerobic exercise; prescribed a bout of rest as a control condition; utilized a non-invasive brain stimulation paradigm to induce neuroplasticity; used TMS to assess neuroplasticity outcomes; participants were healthy 18–65 year old males and females with no diagnosed neurological/psychological impairments. Results: Eight papers (containing 12 experiments) met inclusion criteria. All studies utilized cycling or treadmill exercise as their exercise modality, and exercise intensity ranged from low intensity continuous exercise to high-intensity interval exercise. Four neuroplasticity paradigms were employed including paired associative stimulation (PAS) (n = 3), continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) (n = 2), intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) (n = 2) and transcranial direct current stimulation (n = 1). Aerobic exercise enhanced neuroplastic responses (compared to rest) in seven of the 12 experiments. Conclusions: This review provides emerging evidence that acute aerobic exercise can enhance the response to experimentally-induced neuroplasticity paradigms. However, there remains great variability in the study design and reporting of effects in these studies and thus a more standardized approach is encouraged to better understand the relationship between acute aerobic exercise and neuroplasticity. Future studies should consider optimizing intensity, paradigms and duration of both exercise and neuroplasticity paradigms employed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-414
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sport
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Acute exercise
  • Brain stimulation
  • Neuronal plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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