We know the physiological effects of exercise which are:
- Improved cardiovascular functioning
- Improved metabolism
- Improved biochemical signalling (things generally in your body)
- Release of endorphins such as Dopamine and Serotonin
The inner science of exercise can trigger the downstream processes that:
- Lead to short term, and long term changes to your brain
- Allow you to store information better
- Allow you to process information, emotions and your surroundings more efficiently
- Improve your general sense of joy and well being
Do you like the idea of your brain running at optimal functionality? How can exercise do this?
We understand that consistent exercise has life changing benefits for us by improving cardiovascular systems, respiratory health, metabolism, biochemical signalling (general things that happen in your body day to day), and mental health via the release of endorphins such as Dopamine and Serotonin.
Less known are the short term and long term changes to your brain that allow you to:
- Store and process information better
- Process information, emotions and your surroundings more efficiently Improve your general sense of joy and well-being
- All of these benefits are promoted by the incredible protein Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
Today, on the Inner Science of Exercise, we will talk about this.
When we look inside the brain, we see a long chain of related and sequential events, particularly after aerobic exercise.
BDNF is a powerful neurotrophin (a group of proteins that cause things to survive, thrive and grow) found to increase in production after aerobic exercise. Decreased volumes of BDNF are found in individuals with depression, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (1).
BDNF increases your brain’s ability to form new synaptic connections more efficiently and to strengthen those connections in a process known as Long-Term Potentiation (LTP). A synaptic connection (synapse) is the connector for each neuron in your brain. So the better the connection, the more efficient our brains will be.
This is helpful if you’re trying to learn a new habit, or learn anything new at all. To enhance the strength of the synapses in the connection you are trying to create, you need to practice the habit or information often enough to supply the frequency required by what research states. An article posted on Neurology & Brain health suggests frequency around 30 minutes of jogging 3 days a week could be beneficial, however, more “complex activities that challenge balance or thinking such as rock climbing or dancing” could allow for better BDNF benefits. If levels of BDNF are high around the times of these activities, your ability to adopt the new habit or information will be greater.
So, in theory if you’re trying to learn a language or revising for an exam you could schedule your revision session to be after a workout, when BDNF and endorphin levels are highest.
In a study...
A study carried out by Bernward Winter et al. compared 27 individuals that had completed either intense anaerobic sprints, low impact aerobic running or that were inactive.
Data was collected on their learning speed and memory retention immediately, after a week and then eight months later. The study found that after intense exercise, these individuals were found to have higher circulating levels of BDNF, Dopamine and adrenaline, and were also found to have improved memory speed of up to 20%.
Based on what is suggested in this study, by including intense cardiovascular exercise such as sprint intervals you could easily improve your memory (2).
Data shown in another study done by Gujral et al. strongly suggests positive changes in both brain structure and cognitive function induced by downstream effects when exercise is carried out.
What this study points out is that there can be more than just increasing your brain’s efficiency short term. Cardiovascularly challenging exercise can increase the general health of your brain, and may have long term benefits by maintaining healthy brain density(1).
The study talks about neuronal density increases that can be found in regions such as the Hippocampus and the Prefrontal Cortex. These are regions responsible for memory storage, memory retrieval, emotional processing and critical reasoning.
When it comes to deciphering the best type of exercise that we need to do i.e. aerobic, anaerobic etc., to gain those juicy brain benefits, the research seems to give us conflicting evidence.
There are multiple studies that suggest exercise at around >60% of your max HR is more beneficial than around >80%, and plenty to suggest the contrary. Reading the evidence yourself and making your own informed conclusion is the best way to go about it, but keeping variation in your exercises, volume and intensity could be beneficial.
It goes without saying that improved brain and body functioning requires adequate nutrients and sleep intake, as well as a balance of good habits and state of mind.
The data showing that exercise drastically improves the functioning of your brain and body in the short term and long term is incredible, and almost allows us to hack our bodies natural biochemical processes to become the best version of ourselves.
Want to explore this more?
Links are provided below to all of the articles we have sourced our information from, further explaining these natural processes that occur after exercise.
Feel free to share this article:
- (1)Gujral, S., Aizenstein, H., Reynolds, C., Butters, M. and Erickson, K., 2017. Exercise effects on depression: Possible neural mechanisms. General Hospital Psychiatry, 49, pp.2-10.
- (2)Blog.innerdrive.co.uk. 2021. Increasing BDNF Levels For Better Memory. [online] Available at: <https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/bdnf-and-memory> [Accessed 4 January 2021].