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Trends Neurosci. 2017 Jul;40(7):408-421. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2017.05.001. Epub 2017 Jun 10.

Adaptive Capacity: An Evolutionary Neuroscience Model Linking Exercise, Cognition, and Brain Health.

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School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, 1009 East South Campus Drive, Tucson AZ 85721, USA. Electronic address:
Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Physiological Sciences Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs, and BIO5 Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA; Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA; Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium, Phoenix, AZ 85006, USA.


The field of cognitive neuroscience was transformed by the discovery that exercise induces neurogenesis in the adult brain, with the potential to improve brain health and stave off the effects of neurodegenerative disease. However, the basic mechanisms underlying exercise-brain connections are not well understood. We use an evolutionary neuroscience approach to develop the adaptive capacity model (ACM), detailing how and why physical activity improves brain function based on an energy-minimizing strategy. Building on studies showing a combined benefit of exercise and cognitive challenge to enhance neuroplasticity, our ACM addresses two fundamental questions: (i) what are the proximate and ultimate mechanisms underlying age-related brain atrophy, and (ii) how do lifestyle changes influence the trajectory of healthy and pathological aging?

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