Slowing Neurodegeneration with a combination of Nutrition and Exercise

In my practice as a Nutritionist and therapist located in Newcastlewest, Limerick, Youghal, Cork, and available for one to one in person consultations and support online, I understand that maintaining cognition and brain fitness is a top priority for many of my patients. We know that along with nutritional therapy, exercise is a potent strategy, backed by emerging research, that these can help optimise both mitochondrial and cognitive function. This has the potential to decelerate cognitive decline and attenuate neurodegeneration. Let’s delve deeper into the science behind this fascinating connection.

Exercise, Mitochondrial Health, and Brain Fitness

Physical activity has emerged as a powerful tool in the quest to delay brain aging and degenerative pathologies, while also boosting cognitive processes, memory, and overall well-being. Numerous studies have reinforced the link between exercise and cognitive function, and it’s not limited to one type of physical activity. From low to high-intensity exercise, short-term interval training to aerobic workouts, social dancing, multimodal physical exercise, and mind-body exercises like mindful stretching, breathwork, tai chi, yoga, and qigong, all have shown potential benefits in improving attention, executive function, and memory.

One key factor contributing to exercise’s brain-boosting effects is its ability to optimize mitochondrial function. As we age, specific mitochondrial functions, such as biogenesis and mitophagy, tend to decrease. This decline, coupled with neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial dysfunction, has been linked to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. However, research indicates that physical activity can counteract these issues by stimulating the activation of signaling pathways that protect neurons and support mitochondrial function.

Furthermore, both endurance and resistance exercise can increase circulating neurotrophins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which, in turn, promote mitochondrial biogenesis. Breathwork, emotional therapy and Exercise may also play a role in regulating neuroinflammation and glial activation, factors that actively contribute to neurodegenerative diseases.

Brain Volume

Exercise isn’t just about cognitive function; it also influences the physical structure of our brains. It enhances neuroplasticity by altering synaptic structure and function in various brain regions. Recent data shows that cardiorespiratory fitness is positively associated with total brain volume and grey matter volume in adults, suggesting that it not only contributes to improved brain health but may also decelerate grey matter loss associated with disease pathologies.

Cognitive Impairment & Neurodegenerative Disorders

When it comes to cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disorders, exercise proves to be an effective strategy. It can preserve neuronal function, improve executive functions, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. For example, aerobic training can potentially delay the progression of vascular cognitive impairment, while a multimodal physical exercise program has shown promise in improving mobility and executive functions in patients with mild cognitive impairment.

Exercise interventions tailored to specific neurodegenerative disorders can improve cognitive functions, slow degeneration, and enhance quality of life. In cases of Parkinson’s disease, exercise can address both motor and non-motor disorders, including balance and cognitive function. Similarly, for patients with multiple sclerosis, breathwork, stretching and exercise can improve aerobic fitness, strength, and cognition, while also enhancing their overall quality of life.

Clinical Takeaways: Brain Health Strategies

In my practice, I collaborate closely with my clients and patients to develop personalised therapeutic strategies. These strategies include emotional health, nutritional help and guidance and comprehensive treatment plans that cater to each persons specific conditions and concerns. For individuals with cognitive issues or those worried about brain aging, with Claire, explore a holistic approach, encompassing exercise, nutrition, sleep, emotional and mental health, and nurturing relationships. Together, we work towards optimising brain health and slowing neurodegeneration, ensuring a brighter, healthier future for all.



  1. Di Liegro CM, Schiera G, Proia P, Di Liegro I. Physical activity and brain health. Genes (Basel). 2019;10(9):720. doi:10.3390/genes10090720
  2. Falck RS, Davis JC, Best JR, Crockett RA, Liu-Ambrose T. Impact of exercise training on physical and cognitive function among older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neurobiol Aging. 2019;79:119-130. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2019.03.007
  3. Moreau D, Chou E. The acute effect of high-intensity exercise on executive function: a meta-analysis. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2019;14(5):734-764. doi:10.1177/1745691619850568
  4. Zaenker P, Favret F, Lonsdorfer E, Muff G, de Seze J, Isner-Horobeti ME. High-intensity interval training combined with resistance training improves physiological capacities, strength and quality of life in multiple sclerosis patients: a pilot study. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2018;54(1):58-67. doi:10.23736/S1973-9087.17.04637-8
  5. Bouaziz W, Schmitt E, Vogel T, et al. Effects of a short-term Interval Aerobic Training Programme with active Recovery bouts (IATP-R) on cognitive and mental health, functional performance and quality of life: a randomised controlled trial in sedentary seniors. Int J Clin Pract. 2019;73(1):e13219. doi:10.1111/ijcp.13219
  6. Hsu CL, Best JR, Davis JC, et al. Aerobic exercise promotes executive functions and impacts functional neural activity among older adults with vascular cognitive impairment. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(3):184-191. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096846
  7. Vaccaro MG, Izzo G, Ilacqua A, et al. Characterization of the effects of a six-month dancing as approach for successful aging. Int J Endocrinol. 2019;2019:2048391. doi:10.1155/2019/2048391
  8. de Oliveira Silva F, Ferreira JV, Plácido J, et al. Three months of multimodal training contributes to mobility and executive function in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment, but not in those with Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized controlled trial. Maturitas. 2019;126:28-33. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2019.04.217
  9. Zou L, Loprinzi PD, Yeung AS, Zeng N, Huang T. The beneficial effects of mind-body exercises for people with mild cognitive impairment: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2019;100(8):1556-1573. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2019.03.009
  10. Moreira OC, Estébanez B, Martínez-Florez S, de Paz JA, Cuevas MJ, González-Gallego J. Mitochondrial function and mitophagy in the elderly: effects of exercise. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:2012798. doi:10.1155/2017/2012798
  11. Swerdlow RH. Mitochondria and mitochondrial cascades in Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;62(3):1403-1416. doi:10.3233/JAD-170585
  12. García S, Martín Giménez VM, Mocayar Marón FJ, Reiter RJ, Manucha W. Melatonin and cannabinoids: mitochondrial-targeted molecules that may reduce inflammaging in neurodegenerative diseases. Histol Histopathol. 2020:18212. doi:10.14670/HH-18-212
  13. Mee-Inta O, Zhao ZW, Kuo YM. Physical exercise inhibits inflammation and microglial activation. Cells. 2019;8(7):691. doi:10.3390/cells8070691
  14. Raefsky SM, Mattson MP. Adaptive responses of neuronal mitochondria to bioenergetic challenges: roles in neuroplasticity and disease resistance. Free Radic Biol Med. 2017;102:203-216. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2016.11.045
  15. Lin TW, Tsai SF, Kuo YM. Physical exercise enhances neuroplasticity and delays Alzheimer’s disease. Brain Plast. 2018;4(1):95-110. doi:3233/BPL-180073
  16. Valkenborghs SR, Noetel M, Hillman CH, et al. The impact of physical activity on brain structure and function in youth: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2019;144(4):e20184032. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-4032
  17. Wittfeld K, Jochem C, Dörr M, et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness and gray matter volume in the temporal, frontal, and cerebellar regions in the general population. Mayo Clinic Proc. 2020;95(1):44-56. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2019.05.030
  18. Bernardo TC, Marques-Aleixo I, Beleza J, Oliveira PJ, Ascensão A, Magalhães J. Physical exercise and brain mitochondrial fitness: the possible role against Alzheimer’s disease. Brain Pathol. 2016;26(5):648-663. doi:10.1111/bpa.12403
  19. Feng YS, Yang SD, Tan ZX, et al. The benefits and mechanisms of exercise training for Parkinson’s disease. Life Sci. 2020;245:117345. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2020.117345
  20. Halabchi F, Alizadeh Z, Sahraian MA, Abolhasani M. Exercise prescription for patients with multiple sclerosis; potential benefits and practical recommendations. BMC Neurol. 2017;17(1):185. doi:10.1186/s12883-017-0960-9