Only six minutes. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough. Because six minutes of high-intensity exercise is enough to produce a key protein in the brain.
It is a protein that is important in the formation, function and memory, and that it has been implicated in the progress of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The specialized protein in question is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and promotes both the growth and survival of neuronal cells in the brain, as well as facilitating the development of new junctions and signaling pathways.
“BDNFIt has shown great promise in animal models.but pharmaceutical interventions have so far failed to safely harness the protective power of BDNF in humans,” says environmental physiologist Travis Gibbons of the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Gibbons and his team conducted a study to find ways to stimulate the generation of this protein in a “natural” way, that is, without the aid of drugs.
“We saw a need to explore non-pharmacological approaches that preserve the ability of the brain that humans can use to naturally increase BDNF. to help with healthy aging“adds the specialist.
In this study, published in the Journal of Physiology, 12 physically active volunteers (aged 18 to 56) underwent three tests to see which was better for generating BDNF on the brain: 20 hours of fasting, 90 minutes of cycling or 6 minutes of vigorous cycling.
The short but intense burst of cycling saw the best results in terms of BDNF production. Indeed, four to five-fold increase in blood levels of BDNFcompared with a slight increase after light exercise and no change with fasting.
The next question is why this happens, and this is something for further study. Ultimately, high-intensity exercise could be used as a convenient and cost-effective way to do thisand keep the brain healthy and protect it from developing disease.
Is this possible increase in blood platelets that occurs naturally with exercise explain these findings. Platelets store a large amount of BDNF, which could explain the peak that coincides with heavy cycling.
“Alternatively, the increase could be caused by the brain switching between ‘fuel’ sources after strenuous exercise,” say the researchers, forcing the body to resort to lactate deposits instead of glucose.
“This change in substrate allows the brain to use ‘alternative fuels’ eiinitiates the production of key neurotrophic factors like BDNF,” says Gibbons.
The team is now keen to add more experiments to the mix, such as three full days of fasting, to see how this affects blood BDNF levels. The combined effects of fasting and intense exercise are another potential avenue to explore.
We now have numerous studies that linking exercise with the benefits that can be noticed in the brain, improving concentration or giving a boost to cognitive function; and there are probably many more discoveries to come.
“It is increasingly clear thatexercise is good for brain health at all stages of life,” said Kate Thomas, an exercise physiologist and study author at the University of Otago.
“These data show one pathway by which intense exercise may play a role. Fortunately, the exercise is widely accessible, fair and convenient.”
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.