How Exercise Can Support Brain Health, From An MD

by Jerald Dyson

“When you exercise, especially intensely, you increase BDNF in your brain,” Dawson says. BDNF stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is a protein that improves learning, memory, and higher thinking by stimulating the growth of new neurons and helping existing neurons stay alive. And research shows that exercise can increase BDNF levels. As Dawson puts it, “[It’s] basically like Miracle-Gro for your brain.”

At this point, you’re probably thinking: Which exercise is best for BDNF? Well, Dawson says any type of movement is great in terms of longevity and overall health; however, there is one method that can help optimize brain health even further. “When we talk about exercise and movement, one of the key components is to keep it varied—do different things with your body,” Dawson says. While sticking to a consistent workout regimen is great if you’re looking to achieve a certain goal, switching it up every once in a while will help keep your brain busy. Not only will you benefit varying muscle groups, but you’ll stimulate your mind simultaneously. Win-win.

In terms of what this looks like in practice, you could always switch up the order of your movement routine, working out at a different time of the day (which may have unique benefits, we should add) or changing the location. At the end of the day, just make sure you find an exercise routine you love. “[If it’s] something you love doing, you’re going to do a lot more of it. That’s going to be more important,” Dawson says.


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