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September 28, 2023 • Brain Health

Six Minutes to a Healthier Brain

In a promising new study, scientists found that just six minutes of high intensity exercise can dramatically boost the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), better known as “miracle grow” for the brain. BDNF is a growth factor known to promote the formation of new brain cells and new brain cell connections, as well as foster the survival of existing brain cells. In short, BDNF is invaluable for optimizing mental well-being and cognitive function.

For this study scientists were investigating the impact of fasting, exercise, and fasting plus exercise on BDNF, as past studies had shown that all are possible routes to increase BDNF release.

For the study, six physically active men and six physically active women each engaged in all the following on separate occasions: fasting for 20 hours; light exercise (low intensity cycling) for 90 minutes; high intensity exercise (vigorous cycling) for six minutes; and fasting 20 hours with light exercise for 90 minutes. BDNF levels were measured in all study subjects before and immediately after the four interventions.

The results? Brief, but intense movement was by far the most efficient and effective way to increase BDNF. BDNF levels rose four-to-five fold after six minutes of high intensity cycling! The was no significant change in BDNF levels after 20 hours of fasting and a very small increase (15%) after prolonged light activity.

I am an enthusiastic proponent of engaging in high intensity interval training a couple of times a week for those who can safely do it (which is most people). I love my Peloton for this purpose!

The Journal of Physiology, 2023; DOI: 10.1113/JP283582