Inflammation underlies biological aging and is a major topic of interest in the context of brain and mental health. Low-grade, chronic inflammation is thought to underlie a variety of mental illnesses and neurodegenerative diseases that can occur with aging, such as depression, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia, although the pathways by which they do so are varied. Increased levels of circulating inflammatory biomarkers can cross the blood-brain barrier, increase microglial activation, and may disrupt mechanisms that regulate cognition. As cytokine levels increase, the brain can experience impairments in neurogenesis, the release of neurotrophic factors, and disrupted homeostatic plasticity, which are neurobiological mechanisms known to affect changes in cognition in psychiatric conditions.
Neuroinflammation is a common mechanism shared among the most two common forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease, in which higher levels of neuroinflammation can be addressed via modifiable risk factors; such as exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress management. In addition to being directly associated with deficits in cognition, increased levels of inflammation are associated with depression, especially in older adults. Neurodegeneration can also be accelerated by peripheral risk factors, such as hypertension and insulin sensitivity, in which systemic inflammation plays a significant role and consequently affects levels of neuroinflammation and cognition.
In the interest of preventing the onset of neurological conditions, neurodegeneration, and mental illness in aging; exercise and physical activity have been demonstrated to be effective interventions for improving numerous outcome measures associated with brain health and metabolism, including positive effects on inflammatory biomarkers. Exercise and physical activity has been shown to positively impact the basal levels of inflammatory biomarkers that include CRP, IL-1beta, and TNF-a and a range of other inflammatory biomarkers.