DID YOU KNOW?
The average brain shrinks by about 5% every decade after the age of 40.
The good news is though, there are things you can do to counteract this. The brain is like any other muscle, it needs to be worked and trained to increase its strength and size. If it is not worked, it will atrophy (become smaller) i.e. brain cells will die off.
Now in the previous blog Things you didn’t know about Exercise and Alzheimers (i recommended you go back and read this article first) we talked about the effect exercise can have on improving the signals between white and grey matter in the brain.
BUT! Did you know?…
You actually produce a chemical in the brain when you exercise that is actively working to reduce the decline that happens with age. This chemical is called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). It is a protein that helps with the growth of new neurons and prevents decline of brain cells.
So how can you increase BDHF?
The word intense is the key here. The greater the intensity of exercise, the more likely it is that BDNF production will increase.
But it’s not just about how intensely you exercise, it’s about how frequently you are exercising as well. So while doing 30 minutes of intense exercise is great, if you are only doing it once a week, you are not getting as much benefit as 3-5 times per week.
It is this consistency of stimulation that ultimately impacts the brain to a level in which new brain cells grow.
So, exercise not only reduces the age-related decline in brain cells, consistent, regular exercise can actually allow you to develop new cells as you age.
2. Intermittent Fasting
Another way you can increase BDNF is with intermittent fasting. It has the ability to increase signaling in the brain in a similar fashion to aerobic exercise. Combining regular consistent exercise with periods of intermittent fasting is a great way to develop prolonged increases in BDNF.
Now it won’t happen overnight, but the key is consistency!
Consistency with training, consistency with fasting and keep going consistently for a matter of months = results paying off big time!
3. Dietary Modifications
A key dietary mistake that a lot of people make which greatly affects the production of BDNF is sugar and highly refined carbohydrates.
The research has shown that if you eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, you will have a reduction in spatial learning ability and the functioning of the hippocampal in the brain is greatly reduced.
Whilst it is extremely hard to wean yourself off a bad diet straight away, progressively reducing intake of these foods will work wonders to improving the clarity of your mind, mental state and also mood.
4. Sunlight (Vitamin D)
Another way to improve BDNF is to get enough sunlight, which your body then converts to vitamin D.
Sunlight is the single most important factor in increasing your vitamin D levels. One study done on over 2,000 individuals in the Netherlands determined that increases and decreases in BDNF levels correlated to the seasons.
In Spring and Summer levels increased, in Winter and Autumn levels decreased. From this study they were further able to determine that your levels of serum BDNF were directly related to the number of hours that you are exposed to sunshine
- Green Tea
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Can all help to increase the production of BDNF in the body where there is a deficiency.
6. Lose Weight
Now, this is assuming that all individuals who are overweight do no participate in the intense cardiovascular exercise, do not do intermittent fasting and/or eat a diet of highly refined carbohydrate and sugar, which of course is not always the case!
Individuals with metabolic syndromes do have a depressed ability to produce BDNF. That means it’s either produced in smaller amounts or not much at all. So losing some weight will always be beneficial to increase its growth potential.
I know right, you’re thinking well I do a lot of that, I must be smart! There is a difference though between socializing and being socially ENGAGED.
You see all humans need social contact and meaningful relationships, it’s a part of our nature. Feeling welcomed, supported and understood within a social circle not only increases positive emotions and mood but also increases production of BDNF in the hypothalamus in the brain.
You see having this social engagement from a young child, develops the neuroplasticity of the brain (how well it learns new things) which elevates levels of BDNF. This goes a long way to making resilient and less anxious adults.
Our brains are constantly starving for new challenges and It switches on the light, sending brain activity firing!
So why do you want to increase your levels of Brain-Derived
Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)?
Well, almost every disease associated with cognitive functioning is caused by low levels of BDNF.
I will say that again, just to let it sink in…..
LOW LEVELS OF BDNF = HIGH CHANCE OF DISEASE
Now, let’s come back to exercise for a minute…..
We’ve talked about the role of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in stopping the decline of brain cells as you age, but it also affects brain VOLUME.
When looking at the aging population, those who are over 50 and exercise regularly are more likely to have increased brain volume in the hippocampus and cerebellum. This means their memory, circulation and blood pressure will all be improved. Not only that, the risk of stroke is significantly decreased.
As we previously talked about, lower levels of fitness result in the weakened white matter, something crucial for transmitting signals throughout the brain.
The role of cardio!
Anaerobic and Aerobic Cardiovascular exercise that promotes blood flow is the most effective in sharpening our minds.
Ever noticed how after a brisk 30 min walk, or even a hard football game your mind is more alert?
Exercise itself also helps to challenge our balance, coordination, and speed, all of which recruit different areas of the brain simultaneously. It is the constant challenge and unexpected nature of these tasks that allows new brain cells to develop.
Here at KMJ, we specialize in training ladies of all ages. Our Gentle Exercise classes are designed to incorporate all these elements to prevent against age-related declines.
Contact us today!