Here we summarize topics covered in an SFN symposium that considered how and why exercise and energy intake affect neuroplasticity and, conversely, how the brain regulates peripheral energy metabolism. This article is not a comprehensive review of the subject, but rather a view of how the authors’ findings fit into a broader context. Emerging findings elucidate cellular and molecular mechanisms by which exercise and energy intake modify the plasticity of neural circuits in ways that affect brain health. By enhancing neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity and neuronal stress robustness, exercise and intermittent energy restriction/fasting may optimize brain function and forestall metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, brain-centered glucoregulatory and immunomodulating systems that mediate peripheral health benefits of intermittent energetic challenges have recently been described. A better understanding of adaptive neural response pathways activated by energetic challenges will enable the development and optimization of interventions to reduce the burden of disease in our communities.
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