This is awesome. First, a few definitions:
BDNF: Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. The BDNF gene provides instructions for making a protein found in the brain and spinal cord called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This protein promotes the survival of nerve cells (neurons) by playing a role in the growth, maturation, and maintenance of these cells. In the brain, the BDNF protein is active at the connections between nerve cells (synapses), where cell-to-cell communication occurs. The synapses can change and adapt over time in response to exposure and experiences in the environment, a characteristic called synaptic plasticity. The BDNF protein helps regulate synaptic plasticity, which is important for learning and memory. Gene expression of this gene is lacking in persons with Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.
Hippocampus: An area in the temporal region of the brain that plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation.
Question: Does exercise improve memory?
Answer: A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 titled Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory showed that we can actively modify the gene for the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) with simple exercise. The investigators looked at 120 elderly nondemented individuals over a 1-year period who either stretched or did aerobics. They measured 3 variables: serum BDNF levels, memory function, and hippocampal size on MRI before and after the intervention period. After 1 year, the group that did the aerobic exercise had an increase in hippocampus size by about 1%, improvement of memory function, and higher levels of serum BDNF.
Wow Factor: This is exactly the outcome that pharmaceutical companies are hoping to achieve. If they could bottle these results, you’d be beating down the door of your pharmacy to get your hands on some. There is always hype about the next new promising drug, but there are no celebratory high-fives for the body’s ability to heal itself. This is not expensive medication. Exercise is free.
Follow Up Question: Why aren’t the outcomes of the exercise studies splashed across the headlines?
Ultra-suspicious, Slightly Jaded, Paranoid Conspiracy Theory: Because there bigger profits in drug sales than tennis shoe sales.
Take home Message: Don’t wait for memory loss to start exercising. If memory loss has already occurred, get moving anyway.
Enthusiastic Inspirational Mantra: YOU CAN DO THIS!