BDNF – Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
You all know workout makes your body stronger and healthier, but did you know that training can also boost your brain?
BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a powerful protein that stimulates your production of new brain cells and strengthens existing ones. So high BDNF makes you learn faster, remember better, age slower and rapidly rewire your brain. It also increases your brain’s plasticity, so when your brain cells get damaged or face a stressful situation, BDNF protects them and helps them come back stronger.1
It has been shown in various studies that exercise improves brain function through a number of factors including angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels), neurogenesis (creation of new neurons) and synaptogenesis (creation of new synapses). This is because workout increases the production of brain growth factors called neurotrophins. And one of the most important neurotrophins that has been well studied is BDNF.
Any type of exercise is beneficial in its own right, but certain types of exercise can help the brain become resilient, adaptable and powerful. This can be lead to increased memory, increased cognition, increased learning abilities, less depression, less anxiety and better resiliency to stress in all forms.
Endurance exercise releases a protein called FNDC5, that, in turn, increases BDNF by 200 – 300 %. 2 The increase is long-lived, too. It was shown, for example, that men who cycled daily for three months nearly quadrupled their resting BDNF.3
Multiple studies have demonstrated, on the other hand, the profound BDNF promoting effects of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). The key is, according to Dr. Ratey, one of the leading scientist regarding BDNF, to do as much as possible in the quickest amount of time. One particular study showed a 20%-improvement in learning ability. On top of that, there was also an increase of the main catecholamines dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.4
Simple resistance training did not show considerable elevation of BDNF. Bicep curls may make your arms look good, but the data shows that unfortunately they don’t do much for your brain. So it is better to include resistance training in your HIIT an gain benefits not only for your overall health and strength but also your brain.
How can you increase your BDNF best? Here are 6 methods for you to include into your every-day-life:
As already told, a well-rounded exercise routine that is predominantly a combination of HIIT and aerobic training is best suited for a neuro-enhancing lifestyle. If you are a runner or cycler, try adding some HIIT (Crossfit, Tabata or Sprinting) a few days a week and see what you notice. If you are someone who only does HIIT, you may find that including some endurance exercise like swimming or walking can help boost your recovery an increase your work capacity.
2. Deep sleep:
You release BDNF during deeper stages of sleep, so the better you sleep, the more BDNF release you gain.5 Usually during sleep your synapses relax and loosen so that your brain gains space for new information. Your brain kind of cleans up during sleep. If you do not sleep enough, the brain is no longer able to create new synapses and learning and thinking becomes more difficult. It was shown that the BDNF level remains low, if you are not sleeping enough. So get your sleep and boost your brain!
One of the biggest BDNF inhibitions is stress.6 Since meditation is known as a very good method to reduce stress, it is also a way to increase BDNF.7 Meditation is specifically strengthening areas of the brain that correlate with pain tolerance, body awareness, meta-thinking, memory, emotional control, happiness and attention.8 Since there are several types of meditation, there surely is one you can relate to. All you have to do is try and enjoy the experience!
Sunlight is essential for the human body. Light implicates a special rhythm within your body by producing serotonin and melatonin, hormones that are responsible for regulating sleep and waking state. And you already have learned how important sleep is regarding your BDNF level. On top of that we need sunlight to be able to produce Vitamin D9, which has been shown to increase BDNF levels. It also improves mood, so get outside and enjoy the sun!
5. Social contacts:
Lack of meaningful mental stimulations leads to lower BDNF levels.10 Social isolation also contributes to depression, which decreases BDNF, so make it a point to spend time with friends regularly for the complex richness of social interaction challenges your brain and keeps it adaptable. Your brain thrives on just the right balance of new stimulation like reading, writing, new activities, social interaction or travel and familiar stimulation. So enriched and stimulating lifestyles lead to increased neurotrophic activity and BDNF.
Eating sugar, and fructose in particular, directly curbs BDNF production and links to cognitive decline.11 Also unhealthy fats, fried foods, refined grains, alcohol and dairy have all been shown to increase chronic inflammation in the body, which in turn decreases neurogenesis and BDNF levels. So you better eat to fuel your brain, not drain it!
A very good method to do so is intermittent fasting, that has been shown to increase BDNF levels and stimulate neurogenesis. For that to occur caloric restriction for 12 to 14 hours is necessary. If you want to gain even more positive effects out of intermittent fasting you can try 16 to 18 hours of non-eating.
Adding to that there are some foods that have been shown to increase BDNF as they are all excellent polyphenol sources: coffee, green tea, dark chocolate, blueberries and colorful veggies stimulate BDNF and protect your brain from stress.12
BDNF is one of the most powerful biological triggers for sharpening your mind. Incorporate one or several of these habits into your daily life to think faster and better. And on top of that you will become stronger, fitter and healthier. What is most important is to make the first step, SO START NOW!