Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Exercise Improves Synaptic Integrity

Exercise is one of the most beneficial lifestyle activities to support brain health and cognition as we age.  Physical activity is associated with a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease dementia. 

Researchers were interested in the relationship between exercise and synaptogenesis, the formation of synapses where information travels between brain cells, in humans.  Prior research in rodents of all ages showed that those rodents with access to a running wheel had more branches on their brain cells (dendrites that connect to other brain cells) and better synaptic functioning (indicating smoother information transfer between brain cells) than those rodents without running wheels. 

Synaptic integrity is necessary for cognition.  Adults who are resilient to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have better synaptic structure and higher protein levels than those who are vulnerable to AD.

The brains of 404 participants, aged 70-80 years, in the Rush Memory and Aging Project were analyzed after death for proteins in the synapses.  The participant’s level of exercise had been tracked while they were alive.  The more physical activity of the participant, the higher the levels of protein were in the synapses, across brain regions.  Prior research has shown that high levels of synaptic protein is associated with stronger cognitive performance.

Takeaway: Exercise is consistently linked to better brain health. 


Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD, et al, Late-life physical activity relates to brain tissue synaptic integrity markers in older adults, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Jan 7, 2022,

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