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Boost Brain Function with Exercise


Two studies out this month re-emphasize how important exercise is for both body and brain.


As you already know, exercise is an important daily lifestyle component to keep your body healthy and to keep weight in check. Regular exercise can not only burn off excess calories, but can also decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, can keep blood sugar in check, can improve your sleep habits, and can even boost your mood.

Exercise is also very important for brain function as well – both short and long term benefits have been found.

Scientists from NYU Langone Medical have found exercise to be like “Miracle-Gro” for brain cells! The researchers have measured a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, and found that it plays a role in enhancing memory and in the growth of nerve cells. Recently, the team has found that during exercise, BDNF naturally builds up to keep the brain healthy and may even lower the risk of dementia.

Exercise may also increase a substance known as DBHB which is naturally produced in the liver that activates the BDNF gene to produce more of the protein.

While the study has been carried out on animals thus far, senior investigator Moses Chao PhD feels that exercise benefits human brains similarly. "Our latest findings suggest how we might boost production of BDNF as studies have confirmed that doing so protects the brain,” he says.

A separate study from the University of Georgia has found that, even in small amounts, exercise can alleviate symptoms of ADHD in adults. In their study, men who cycled at moderate intensity for 20 minutes were better able to focus on a task. They were also noted to feel less confused and more energetic during the project.

"Exercise is already known as a stress reducer and mood booster, so it really has the potential to help those suffering with ADHD symptoms," said the study's senior author Patrick O'Connor, professor in the UGA College of Education's kinesiology department. "And while prescription drugs can be used to treat these symptoms, there's an increased risk of abuse or dependence and negative side effects. Those risks don't exist with exercise."

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Do you need new ways to increase your exercise today? The USDA offers these tips

At home:
• Join a walking group in the neighborhood or at the local shopping mall. Recruit a partner for support and encouragement.
• Push the baby in a stroller.
• Get the whole family involved — enjoy an afternoon bike ride with your kids.
• Walk up and down the soccer or softball field sidelines while watching the kids play.
• Walk the dog — don't just watch the dog walk.
• Clean the house or wash the car.
• Walk, skate, or cycle more, and drive less.
• Do stretches, exercises, or pedal a stationary bike while watching television.
• Mow the lawn with a push mower.
• Plant and care for a vegetable or flower garden.
• Play with the kids — tumble in the leaves, build a snowman, splash in a puddle, or dance to favorite music.
• Exercise to a workout video.

At work:
• Get off the bus or subway one stop early and walk or skate the rest of the way.
• Replace a coffee break with a brisk 10-minute walk. Ask a friend to go with you.
• Take part in an exercise program at work or a nearby gym.
• Join the office softball team or walking group.

At play:
• Walk, jog, skate, or cycle.
• Swim or do water aerobics.
• Take a class in martial arts, dance, or yoga.
• Golf (pull cart or carry clubs).
• Canoe, row, or kayak.
• Play racquetball, tennis, or squash.
• Ski cross-country or downhill.
• Play basketball, softball, or soccer.
• Hand cycle or play wheelchair sports.
• Take a nature walk.
• Most important — have fun while being active!

Journal References:
Moses V Chao et al. Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through the action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate. eLife, 2016; 5 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.15092

Kathryn M. Fritz, Patrick J. O’Connor. Acute Exercise Improves Mood and Motivation in Young Men with ADHD Symptoms. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2016; 48 (6): 1153 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000864

Additional Resource:

Photo Credit: By presse03 - CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons