Scientists have associated the benefits of physical exercise to brain health for many years, but new research is making it clear that the two aren’t just simply related; rather, it is THE relationship.
A recent study involving rodents provided a powerful illustration of this association.
During physical activity, the animals’ nerve cells release proteins called neurotrophic factors. A special type called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) helped activate brain stem cells to produce new neurons. BDNF also helps stimulate other chemicals that promoted neural health.
Although scientists were not able to directly observe this in human brains, it was also found that humans’ BDNF levels rose after physical activity. Hence, there is reason to believe that the beneficial effects seen in animal tests are applicable to humans.
Discover the Effects of Exercise on Your Brain
When you exercise, your brain is able to function at maximum capacity, as well as prevent brain shrinkage. This helps your nerve cells multiply, strengthening them and defending them from damage. And when exercise is paired with fasting, it stimulates genes and growth factors that rejuvenate your brain and muscle tissues, such as BDNF, and muscle regulatory factors (MRFs).
The role of those growth factors is to send signals to brain stem cells and muscle satellite cells to create new neurons and muscle cells. BDNF also protects against neuro-motors from decline, which is associated with age-related muscle atrophy. In short, BDNF is shown to influence both your brain and muscles.
Dr. Joseph Mercola says: “This cross-connection, if you will, appears to be a major part of the explanation for why a physical workout can have such a beneficial impact on your brain tissue. It, quite literally, helps prevent, and even reverse, brain decay as much as it prevents and reverses age-related muscle decay.”
This shows how exercise while fasting keeps your brain and muscle fibers young.
Exercise also triggers other mechanisms that help the brain reach optimal state:
- It was discovered by researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago that exercise helps lower the presence of bone-morphogenetic protein or BMP in the brain. BMP slows down the creation of brain cells.
At the same time, physical activity helps increase the production of Noggin, a protein that acts as a BMP antagonist. Noggin also promotes stem cell divisions and neurogenesis – brain cell production.
- Research shows that exercise can help in the treatment of depression. Working out can help regulate insulin levels and increase endorphin production (also known as the “feel good” hormone) in your brain.
“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is that exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed… physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain. And it increases your endorphin levels, your “feel good hormones,” explains Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, a world-renowned expert on mind-body medicine.
Dr. Gordon adds that exercise helps increase the number of brain cells in the hippocampus region. It was determined through animal studies that in depression, these cells are few in the said region.
- Exercise encourages the production of nerve-protecting compounds. It also improves neuron development and survival.
- Physical activity lowers the risk of heart and blood vessel problems, and promotes greater blood flow to the brain.
- Other animal research shows that exercise aids in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by helping alter the way damaging proteins move inside your brain. The results showed that mice which exercised had low levels of plaques and beta-amyloid peptides – all of which are linked to Alzheimer’s.
Exercise AND Nutrition Goes Hand-in-Hand in Promoting Brain Health
These benefits should be reason enough to engage in an active lifestyle. However, Dr. Mercola recommends not just focusing on aerobics. You should incorporate a well-rounded fitness program that contains:
- High-intensity interval training (also known as anaerobic training) with ample recovery periods in between
- Strength training
- Core exercises
- Aerobic training
For a comprehensive workout routine, check out Dr. Mercola’s Peak Fitness program.
Nutrition also has a connection to your brain health. For years, Dr. Mercola has been emphasizing the importance of reducing intake of sugar, as sugar affects your insulin levels. Sugar, especially fructose, can induce chronic inflammation and impair your immune function.
Recent studies show that sugar can suppress BDNF and can contribute to depression. It was seen that people who are depressed have significantly low levels of BDNF. Also, some animal studies state that low BDNF levels may lead to other health problems.
All of this demonstrates the connection of various metabolic pathways, which are all influenced by exercise and proper diet. To support your brain health, incorporate a comprehensive fitness program to your lifestyle AND eat as much raw, organic food as possible. Learn more about this in Dr. Mercola’s nutrition plan.