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Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor & Exercise

By Carson Boddicker ; Updated August 14, 2017

Brain derived neurotrophic factor plays a key role in how easily your brain can adapt to and learn how to effectively complete new challenges, called neuroplasticity. Brain derived neurotrophic factor acts as a fertilizer of the brain's neurons, making them grow more quickly and develop stronger connections, in essence making it the "Miracle-Gro" of the brain, says neuroscience research and professor at Harvard University Dr. John Ratey. Exercise can profoundly increase the levels of brain derived neurotrophic factors and improve neuroplasticity, according to Ratey.

Basics of Neuroscience

When you complete a new task, the brain and its many cortices begins to reorganize and rewire itself. Over time, this circuit becomes better and better defined, making the transmission of the neural message more efficient and making you better at the new task. Dr. Ratey suggests that by exercising, levels of certain brain fertilizers--including brain derived neurotrophic factors--increase, making the acquisition of new skills more efficient and easy to do.

Exercise and Learning

Dr. Ratey suggests that exercise resulting in the release of neurotrophins can have profound impacts on academic performance and learning, especially in children. He cites the Naperville, Illinois, public school district. In Naperville, a district that places heavy emphasis on sustained, moderate intensity exercise and smart nutrition, students outperform the rest of the country in standardized testing.

Improve your Mood

Exercise can result in profound improvements in mood and feelings of well being. Ratey believes this impact is largely a result of neurotrophins being released that alter the levels of dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals heavily linked with mood and well being. Neurotrophin-producing exercise has also been used in prison systems to great effect, resulting in less inmate violence and deviant activities, says Dr. Ratey.

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Rehabilitation

Injured athletes should be aware of the role of brain derived neurotrophic factor in increasing plasticity necessary for rehabilitation. Research by Dr. Shellie Boudreau in 2010 demonstrated that rehabilitation must influence the brain circuitry to be entirely successful. Brain derived neurotrophic factor release with exercise can play a key role in improving the necessary circuits more quickly than when exercise is not present, suggests Dr. Boudreau.

Increase your Neurotrophins with Exericse

Dr. Ratey recommends that everyone should participate in a minimum of five sessions of moderate intensity aerobic exercise lasting at least 30 minutes each week to maximize the benefits of exercise on neurotrophin production. He suggests additionally that more advanced trainees can benefit from up to eight repetitions of 30 seconds of very high intensity activity with two minutes between each effort.

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