Studies were conducted to evaluate the effect of a brief voluntary exercise period on the expression pattern and post-translational modification of multiple protein classes in the rat hippocampus using proteomics. An analysis of 80 protein spots of relative high abundance on two-dimensional gels revealed that approximately 90% of the proteins identified were associated with energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity. Exercise up-regulated proteins involved in four aspects of energy metabolism, i.e. glycolysis, ATP synthesis, ATP transduction and glutamate turnover. Specifically, we found increases in fructose-bisphosphate aldolase C, phosphoglycerate kinase 1, mitochondrial ATP synthase, ubiquitous mitochondrial creatine kinase and glutamate dehydrogenase 1. Exercise also up-regulated specific synaptic-plasticity-related proteins, the cytoskeletal protein α-internexin and molecular chaperones (chaperonin-containing TCP-1, neuronal protein 22, heat shock 60-kDa protein 1 and heat shock protein 8). Western blot was used to confirm the direction and magnitude of change in ubiquitous mitochondrial creatine kinase, an enzyme essential for transducing mitochondrial-derived ATP to sites of high-energy demand such as the synapse. Protein phosphorylation visualized by Pro-Q Diamond fluorescent staining showed that neurofilament light polypeptide, glial fibrillary acidic protein, heat shock protein 8 and transcriptional activator protein pur-alpha were more intensely phosphorylated with exercise as compared with sedentary control levels. Our results, together with the fact that most of the proteins that we found to be up-regulated have been implicated in cognitive function, support a mechanism by which exercise uses processes of energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity to promote brain health.