Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Montero-Odasso, Manuel


The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the effects that exercise modalities have on neurotrophic and inflammatory blood markers and cognitive outcomes in older adults. A systematic review and meta-analysis were completed. The included studies illustrated that most of the literature evaluated the effect of aerobic exercise interventions on systemic concentrations of the blood marker brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The review found that aerobic exercise increases BDNF and resistance training increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Interventions with sex-specific cohorts presented advantages in males for blood marker and cognitive outcomes compared to females. One of three included interventions decreased C-reactive protein (CRP). This thesis demonstrated the presence of modality-specific outcomes of exercise on blood markers and presents a targeted review of the literature evaluating exercise, cognition, and blood markers.

Summary for Lay Audience

Dementia poses a huge burden to older adults, their caregivers, and society. Patients with dementia are faced with increasingly severe and complex impairments to their thinking, otherwise known as cognition, which includes processes such as memory, planning, organization, attention, language, spatial ability, and ability to orient themselves. Additionally, individuals with dementia typically face challenges with mobility, social life, and mental health as their condition progresses.

A possible treatment for dementia is exercise, which has been shown to (at least temporarily) improve or prevent worsening of the symptoms of cognitive decline in older adults. Past research on exercise as a treatment for individuals with cognitive impairments has suggested that exercise triggers a release of specific molecules in the blood and, conversely, reduces harmful molecules. More specifically, exercise triggers the release of molecules, known as growth factors, that increase blood flow and regulate the development, growth, and survival of brain cells. Also, exercise decreases molecules in the blood that are related to heart disease and dementia, known as inflammatory markers.

This manuscript aimed to examine the role of key growth factors and inflammatory markers in the cognitive outcomes seen after an exercise program. A review of this subject was completed and organized to clarify the consensus of all past literature.

The review found that different exercise types (resistance and aerobic) increased different growth factors in the blood. Males showed more positive effects on both blood molecules and mental processes after exercise. Additionally, inflammatory markers were reduced after exercise in some studies. In conclusion, this manuscript suggested that different types of exercise can increase growth factor molecules to improve cognition, and that exercise can protect against age-related declines in memory and growth factor levels in the blood.