Background: Shared connections between physical activity and neuroprotection have been
studied for decades, but the mechanisms underlying this effect of specific exercise were only recently
brought to light. Several evidences suggest that physical activity may be a reasonable and beneficial
method to improve functional recovery in both peripheral and central nerve injuries and to delay
functional decay in neurodegenerative diseases. In addition to improving cardiac and immune functions,
physical activity may represent a multifunctional approach not only to improve cardiocirculatory and
immune functions, but potentially modulating trophic factors signaling and, in turn, neuronal function
and structure at times that may be critical for neurodegeneration and regeneration.
Methods: Research content related to the effects of physical activity and specific exercise programs
in normal and injured nervous system have been reviewed.
Results: Sustained exercise, particularly if applied at moderate intensity and early after injury, exerts
anti-inflammatory and pro-regenerative effects, and may boost cognitive and motor functions in aging
and neurological disorders. However, newest studies show that exercise modalities can differently
affect the production and function of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and other neurotrophins
involved in the generation of neuropathic conditions. These findings suggest the possibility that new
exercise strategies can be directed to nerve injuries with therapeutical benefits.
Conclusion: Considering the growing burden of illness worldwide, understanding of how modulation
of neurotrophic factors contributes to exercise-induced neuroprotection and regeneration after
peripheral nerve and spinal cord injuries is a relevant topic for research, and represents the beginning
of a new non-pharmacological therapeutic approach for better rehabilitation of neural disorders.