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Exercising The Brain

It’s easy to see the results of exercise on your hips, stomach…and biceps. But what’s less visible, but even more important, is the huge influence it has on your brain. The structure of the brain, how it functions, the repair, the growth, how it adapts to stress are all enhanced by physical exercise. Finishing a crossword, beating your friend at chess, may make you FEEL smarter, but exercise has show to MAKE you smarter. If you’re looking to protect and preserve brain health and function throughout your life…then you better get moving!

Q: How does exercise “build a bigger brain”?

A: Well, it doesn’t necessarily build a “bigger” brain, although some structures like the hippocampus which play a major role in learning and memory have shown to grow in volume, it does increase brain growth elements like Brain-Derived-Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), growth of brain cells (neurons – neurogenesis), increase blood flow and vessels in the brain, and promote detoxification and cleansing of the brain. 

Q: How important is BDNF?

A: Extremely, BDNF is essential for healthy cognition because it’s directly involved in how long cells survive, plasticity (how the brain adapts, grows, and learns new functions), and the growth and development of neurons (a process called neurogenesis). BDNF is the fountain of youth of the brain, the more you can produce and preserve the better for you. 

Q: What are the best ways to increase BDNF?

A: Exercise is the fastest and most effective way to boost BDNF. In just 5 weeks, mild-intensity exercise significantly increase BDNF levels and reversed cognitive decline. Another study found that it significantly improved memory and learning in young sedentary men. Other proven ways are Intermittent Fasting (between 12-16hrs), 30min of sunshine per day, and deep sleep (at least 7hrs per night)

Q: Any foods or nutrients increase BDNF?

A: Whole coffee fruit extract, which is the fruit of the coffee bean, Turmeric (specifically the curcumin, so look for the highest concentration), Green Tea, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Resveratrol, Bacopa, and L-Theanine.

Q: What exercises are the best for brain health? 

A: Research has shown those that are complex, involving multiple muscle groups and involve certain coordination. Running, swimming, dancing, walking, research has shown longer period, sustain movements that involve multiple muscle groups at the same time. What’s important to note is that “sustained” meant only 30-40minutes, so not a long time, however it was consistent, 3-4x per week. 

Q: What about high-intensity interval training or weightlifting?

A: Not so much in HIIT, the levels of BDNF stayed the same regardless of volume or intensity. But a study was done using weightlifting exercises that were complex; squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.. and found BDNF was 3x more than at rest. This patterned continued after 8 weeks of training. 

Q: So in summary…? 

A: Exercise, specifically those ones that involve the whole body, moving as much of it at one time as possible, and that involves some level of coordination/rhythm/pattern, is going to increase hormones that build, repair, and recovery the brain and allow it to function at a high capacity. The key is consistency (e.g. walking for 30min every day) is more important than intensity (e.g. sprinting).  EVERYONE can build a stronger, bigger, better functioning brain.