Normally when we write about exercise we put it in the brain fitness category, because we know that exercise helps our brains to stay healthy, it gets more blood flow moving into our brains, etc. Brain Fitness just makes sense as the right place to talk about that.
But today I learned about BDNF, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which is a protein that is produced largely in the hypothalamus and helps neurons to grow and stick around (keeps them from dying). Contrary to popular belief (or at least it used to be popular) you actually do grow neurons throughout your life. And what I learned makes this qualify as a brain hack, because it can help your brain in so many ways! Check out the “Miracle-Gro for the Brain” article on Huffington Post.
This substance is active within the hippocampus, an area that is the center for learning, memory and higher thinking. It is also found to be stimulated by exercise (and not only helps your brain but also assists in muscle repair). One of the reasons that exercise seems to help protect against neuro-degenerative diseases is because of the increased BDNF that results.
Arthur Kramer from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois is one of the leaders in the research on how exercise stimulates the production of BDNF, which becomes hugely important as we age. The more recent research shows us that exercise, at least in part due to the increased production of BDNF, helps to keep our brains from shrinking as we age and can actually increase our IQ!
You can read about some of the research led by the Beckman Institute on myfitnesspal.com:
Exercise, brains and BDNF
Here is a summary of the research and why regular exercise will make you smarter:
1. Regardless of how stimulating their environment, mice only showed significant improvement in cognitive tests if they exercised.
2. New neurons that are not integrated into existing neural networks don’t have much impact on the intellect, but exercise seems to help the new cells join the network and become multifunctional. (new neurons created from other types of activities seem to only fire when performing that particular activity)
3. While aerobic exercise seems to stimulate production of BDNF the most, walking still increases levels of BDNF and resulted in less brain atrophy.
4. It would seem that aerobic exercise helps your brain more than that crossword puzzle!