Researchers Have Discovered an Exercise “Sweet Spot” To Reverse Cognitive Decline

Researchers find out how exercise improves learning.

University of Queensland researchers have discovered an exercise ‘sweet spot’ that reverses the cognitive decline in aging mice, paving the way for human studies.

After more than a decade of research, led by Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) Emeritus Professor Perry Bartlett and Dr. Dan Blackmore, the team found 35 days of voluntary physical exercise improved learning and memory.

“We tested the cognitive ability of elderly mice following defined periods of exercise and found an optimal period or ‘sweet spot’ that greatly improved their spatial learning,” Dr. Blackmore said.

The researchers also discovered how exercise improved learning.

“We found that growth hormone (GH) levels peaked during this time, and we’ve been able to demonstrate that artificially raising GH in sedentary mice also was also effective in improving their cognitive skills,” Dr. Blackmore said

“We discovered GH stimulates the production of new neurons in the hippocampus – the region of the brain critically important to learning and memory.

“This is an important discovery for the thousands of Australians diagnosed with dementia every year.”

Dementia is the second leading cause of death of all Australians, and with no medical breakthrough the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to around 1.1 million by 2058.

Professor Bartlett said the findings provide further proof that loss of cognitive function in old age is directly related to the diminished production of new neurons.

“It underlines the importance of being able to activate the neurogenic stem cells in the brain that we first identified 20 years ago,” Professor Bartlett said.

The team was able to explore how the production of new neurons changed the circuitry in the brain using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

“Using MRI, we were able to study the brain following exercise, and for the first time identify the critical changes in the structure and functional circuitry of the hippocampus required for improved spatial learning,” Dr. Blackmore said.


“Neurogenic-dependent changes in hippocampal circuitry underlie the procognitive effect of exercise in aging mice” by Xiaoqing Alice Zhou, Daniel G. Blackmore, Junjie Zhuo, Fatima A. Nasrallah, XuanVinh To, Nyoman D. Kurniawan, Alison Carlisle, King-Year Vien, Kai-Hsiang Chuang, Tianzi Jiang and Perry F. Bartlett, 15 November 2021, iScience.
DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103450

“An exercise “sweet spot” reverses cognitive deficits of aging by growth-hormone-induced neurogenesis” by Daniel G. Blackmore, Frederik J. Steyn, Alison Carlisle, Imogen O’Keeffe, King-Year Vien, Xiaoqing Zhou, Odette Leiter, Dhanisha Jhaveri, Jana Vukovic, Michael J. Waters and Perry F. Bartlett, 14 October 2021, iScience.
DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103275

BrainDementiaExerciseLearningNeurosciencePopularUniversity of Queensland
Comments ( 35 )
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  • KevinW

    35 days in a row, 35 days spread over a year, once a every year, once ever? Not clear at all from this precis.

  • Paul

    Agreed. This was click bait, not informative

  • Carol

    Agree, poorly written article leaving the reader with unanswered questions.

  • NYconservative

    Apparently the authors are a few days short of the requisite 35.

  • Poncespr

    Seems many readers are in need of the required 35 days of exercise.
    From the study linked in this article:
    “We first confirmed our previous data that only the mice that had run for 35 days showed significant improvement in active place avoidance (APA) performance, as indicated by a decrease in shock number, whereas shorter or longer periods of exercise had an insignificant effect on learning ability.”

    • Gorden

      Soooo…. 35 days, 24 hrs a day of exercise? 12 hrs a day of exercise? 2 hrs per day? 30 minutes? Lol

  • Natalie Pottinger

    35 days every how often?!

  • William Kortebein

    Agreed. This is unclear. 35 days in a row? If so, how often…

  • Gorden

    What if it’s involuntary exercise? You’re raising more questions than you answer.

  • Luís

    Well, the number 35 from the experience seems to be irrelevant. The conclusions are: exercise is good for brain health, within reason, the more, the better.

  • Jim Ruane

    Very promising! This is exciting and, to me, evidences that we can control MCI. Thanks to all the scientists who are working on solutions to MCI (mild cognitive impairment) that robs about 10-20% of seniors of their latter years.

  • Gordon

    I concur.

  • Matt

    Agree with Kevin. 35 days? ??

  • A

    Just ride or run to the store and buy your alcohol

  • John

    Don’t you hate it when these articles are so vague as to be totally useless to the reader who is seeking information? SO WHAT IS THE GODDAMN SWEET SPOT?

  • TomL

    I agree, what kind of article was this? No real information provided.

  • Crystal

    35 days in one month. Got it. Bye click bait. Way to mess up some maybe scholarly work?

  • Teslaholic

    School for the gifted so smart their stupid
    As said 35 days when and what kind weight lifting,bikeing intense mild

  • Katie

    What should you do after 35 days of voluntary exercise? Take a break of X days before starting the circuit over again?

    How intense should the voluntary exercise be? How many minutes per day?

    Sandrine Thuret’s TED talk on Neurogenesis had more information and it’s from 2015.

  • Marsha

    Keep up the good work! It seems people are really anxious about this subject as they slip into the world of dementia. We do need to know everything we can about prevention and cure.
    Thank you so much

  • Carmen

    I don’t think that the suggestion is to exercise for 35 days, but rather they found cognitive improvement in the elderly mice after 35 days. Indicating that when older people exercise on a regular basis the MCI is reduced, and thus cognitive function improves.

  • GB O'Reilly

    Where’s the explanatory content? This sure as heck wasn’t it.

  • Rowan

    Doesn’t that equate to 7yrs for humans?

  • Waste of time

    Didn’t get a thing out of this ad. What exercise and what timeline to exercise? Useless ad, just a money grab.

  • J

    Waste of time

  • Lcole


  • Sylvia R Fohlin

    Unclear and unhelpful.

  • David L.

    If you go to the full article it referenced, (copy and paste title in google scholar) you will find in the methodology section that tell you the “35” days of exercise is actually 35 days of access to a running wheel in the mouse cage. They compared 3 groups of mice separated into the 21, 35, and 49 day “exercise periods” and found out mice with 35 day access to the wheel did best in performance studies (as measured by least numbers of shocks given when didn’t perform well). So they didn’t measure how much exercise was done. Now don’t ask me why the group with longest access to the “treadmill” did not do best and don’t ask me how this translate to humans.

  • Jeff Ifill

    For heaven sake people it is still in the experimental stage and no trials have been conducted on humans as yet. The 35 days refer to the mice, the exercise and time frame are completed different for the mass of two different size bodies, this information was extremely valuable especially for people with love ones suffering from dementia.

  • Gav

    If you read the research itself, it says the exercise period needs to be exactly 35 days, followed by a break period. They exercised mice for 28 days, and 42 days, and neither one of those groups saw any meaningful benefit. Very odd results.

  • Ali Boozari

    The message is clear.
    The need for healthy behaviors — such as getting enough exercise can slow down cognitive function due to aging.
    Please don’t expect more from these type of studies.

  • Buzz

    Not an informative article. 35 days doesn’t tell you anything unless you know things like consecutive days or every other day, for how long each day, one and done or repeated after first 35 days is complete, what kind of exercise, etc, etc, etc!!!

  • Jo

    The link to the original article leads to answers to many of our questions. E.g. the mice on the study ran every day. E.g. 35 days in a row.

  • Missy

    35 days of jumping jacks?

  • Michael Katz

    Guys, the article discussed the
    Effect of exercise on cognitive decline. 35 days is just the start.
    It appears to be saying exercise is
    Good for maintaining good health.
    I am 72 yes old. I have been exercising for 50 years and I am as
    sharp as when I graduated college
    years ago. Give it a try. Exercycles
    are a blast. Happy Holidays