Did you know that a natural compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), produced by your body during vigorous exercise, can improve your performance on memory, problem-solving and cognition tests? According to extensive research on both animals and with humans, more BDNF produced leads to more brain growth, and amazingly, better test scores.
BDNF is a signal that is ultimately received by nerve cells, and it’s thought to be critical during early development. A protein encoded in our genes, BDNF is most active in the cerebral cortex, associated with language and higher levels of thought, as well as the hippocampus region of the brain best known for its role in memory. Mice with a dysfunctional gene encoding BDNF suffer brain development problems and die during infancy. The protein is synthesised at ribosomes located inside cells, then exported out of the cell into the cerebrospinal fluid where it induces nervous tissue to grow. Previous studies have found that more BDNF is produced when you exercise. Armed with this information, Aussie researchers are helping uncover the effects of exercise on the brain. One surprising new discovery: exercise might cause your hippocampus to grow larger.
“Even a healthy brain, past the age of 40, deteriorates by about 5 per cent per decade,” Firth says. “That’s partly due to less BDNF in the brain. Exercise regulates the BDNF and prevents it from deteriorating.”
This would help explain why people tend to do better on short-term memory tests after taking a walk around the park. However, scientists are only just beginning to understand the full extent of this observed brain growth, and so far it’s unclear exactly what these results mean for human health. The study concluded that more research is needed, but “nonetheless, the link between cardiorespiratory fitness with both structural and performance increases indicates this as a suitable target for aerobic training programs to improve brain health.”
Regular exercise is already known to play a preventative role against Alzheimer’s disease, as well as diabetes, heart disease, depression and just about every major health problem affecting older Australians. But when it comes to your brain, both aerobic exercise and strength training have been shown to be beneficial. Regarding a study where high-intensity resistance training led to improved brain function, scientists believe there are factors other than BDNF at work.
“It’s likely hormones that contribute to muscle strength gains are also causing cognitive improvement.”
Including some active pastimes in your weekly schedule will keep you healthy and balanced, and it might even enhance your mental performance. HSG can bring these benefits to your team directly with Workplace Fitness Classes, or take a more broad approach to all aspects of healthy lifestyle with a Health Workshop. We can help you find the solution that will suit your organisation – give us a call on 1300 889 073 to talk about your ideas for a physical health programs.