The Benefits of Exercise on Rehabilitation and Recovery Following Brain Injury

We know the saying that a healthy body and healthy mind can help create a healthy life. But just how do we go about creating them? There are many elements to creating a healthy lifestyle, one of which is exercise. Research shows that exercise benefits your physical and mental health, both of which are important in the recovery process following a brain injury. Here are just some of the benefits and the ways that exercise can help with rehabilitation and recovery after brain injury…

by Deirdre Murphy, Psychology Student, DCU


Following a traumatic brain injury, the literature suggests that is common for an people to experience feelings of anxiety or depression, as well as to report a diminished quality of life. However, research has shown that exercise can have a positive effect on both mood and quality of life. Wise et al. (2012) carried out a study which required people who had experienced traumatic brain injury to engage in a 10-week exercise intervention which included doing 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. Following this exercise regime, participants in the study reported lower rates of depression and a better quality of life. As well as this, a follow up study 6 months later found that participants who maintained exercising for at least 90 minutes per week reported better mood and mental health, highlighting the enduring positive effect that exercise can have on mood.

Cognitive Function

The brain is like a muscle that needs to be worked. Various cognitive exercises will do this, but the literature suggests that physical exercise can also have a positive effect on the brain and its functioning. It is suggested that aerobic exercise can promote brain plasticity by stimulating the formation of new connections between brain cells, as well as aiding with the release of various hormones which can help with the growth of brain cells.

There is research to suggest that exercise can help with the cognitive functioning of people following traumatic brain injury. For example, Grealy et al. (1999) carried out a study investigating the impact of exercise on cognition in individuals with a traumatic brain injury. This was done by comparing the changes in cognitive ability in individuals who engaged in an exercise intervention and those who did not. Although the results of the study showed no change in attentional impairment, the authors did find that those in the exercise group demonstrated an improvement in working memory, suggesting that the exercise aided in their ability to deal with incoming information. This indicates that exercise can be of benefit to an individual’s cognitive rehabilitation following a traumatic brain injury.

General Health

Exercise is important for every individual’s general health. It is recommended that adults between the ages of 18 and 65 engage in 30 minutes of moderate activity at least 5 times weekly. Such exercise has been linked to health benefits such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, maintenance of a healthy weight and bone density, as well as improved quality of sleep (NHS, 2016).

In conclusion, there is a large amount of research which shows that exercise can have a significant positive effect on rehabilitation and recovery following a traumatic brain injury, as well as being beneficial to both physical and mental health.


  • Loprinzi, P. D., & Cardinal, B. J. (2011). Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, NHANES 2005–2006. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 4(2), 65-69.
  • Wise, E. K., Hoffman, J. M., Powell, J. M., Bombardier, C. H., & Bell, K. R. (2012). Benefits of exercise maintenance after traumatic brain injury. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 93(8), 1319-1323.
  • Grealy, M. A., Johnson, D. A., & Rushton, S. K. (1999). Improving cognitive function after brain injury: the use of exercise and virtual reality. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 80(6), 661-667.
  • (2016). Physical activity guidelines for adults – Live Well – NHS Choices. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Aug. 2016].
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