Hypertension has been linked with peripheral and central reductions in vascular density, and with devastating effects on brain function. However, the underlying mechanisms in the relationship between blood pressure and cognitive impairment have yet to be fully elucidated. Here, we review compelling evidence from two lines of inquiry: one that links microvascular rarefaction with insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) deficiencies, and another which posits that vascular dysfunction precedes hypertension. Based on the findings from experimental and clinical studies, we propose that these lines of evidence converge, and suggest that age-related declines in IGF-1 concentrations precede microvascular rarefaction, initiate an increase in vascular resistance, and therefore are causally linked to onset of hypertension. Physical exercise provides a relevant model for supporting our premise, given the well-established effects of exercise in attenuating vascular dysfunction, hypertension, IGF-1 deficiency, and cognitive decline. We highlight here the role of exercise-induced increases in blood flow in improving vascular integrity and enhancing angiogenesis via the actions of IGF-1, resulting in reversal of rarefaction and hypertension, and enhancement of cerebral blood flow and cognition.