A number of researchers have studied the link between diet, exercise, and brain health. Among other things, they found that when we exercise, the brain produces more of a special brain-growth repair hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that stimulates the increase in brain connections — dendrites and synapses — especially in the hippocampus.
There are three chemicals involved in the beneficial effects of exercise and dietary restriction:
1. BDNF (protein for brain cell development)
3. IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor)
The amounts of all three chemicals increase with regular exercise and proper dietary restrictions. The typical Western diet was found to drastically lower the amounts of BDNF, the principle brain protector. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter often associated with protecting against depression, stimulates BDNF production, and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) plays a special role in protecting our ability to recall memories.
However, too much IGF-1 is as harmful as too little. High protein diets dramatically increase IGF-1 levels and reduce lifespan.
The mechanisms involved in exercise and lifespan extension can get quite complicated, but summarily, we do know that exercising, fasting, or reducing caloric intake significantly triggers a stress response in cells.
Studies have also shown that dietary restriction protects neurons against degeneration in models of human diseases such as Alzheimer’s. (
Find more details on how you can keep your brain from the ravages of dementia by reading my report "Save Your Brain."
Exercise and intellectually challenging hobbies, put stress on the brain’s cells, which causes more BDNF to be secreted, leading to clearer minds, quicker thinking, and better
One of the major triggers for the release of BDNF is electrical activity in the brain itself. This is why intellectually challenging exercises stimulate the brain to grow and repair
A recently completed study in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience studied six individuals from a group of elderly persons (ages 70 to 85) using sophisticated
functional MRI techniques.They were divided into three groups: One group received exercise training, a second group had cognitive training only, and a control group of healthy individuals received neither.
Researchers found that people who were in the exercise group for four months demonstrated a dramatic increase in cerebral blood flow (flow of blood in the brain) in the area of the hippocampus.
Neither of the other two groups showed such an increase. Studies have shown that increasing blood flow in the hippocampus correlates with better memory.
Of even greater interest, researchers found that the brains of those who exercised had better connections to a special area of the brain needed for a number of important
functions. Evidence indicates that some neurological disorders, such as dementia, are
associated with an early loss of connectivity of the brain — various parts of the brain have difficulty communicating with each other.
Interestingly, the improved connectivity shown after just four months of exercise in 70- to 85-year-olds was greater than that seen in much younger individuals. It is important to keep in mind that all of these improvements in brain function occurred in elderly individuals who had not exercised before this study, indicating that even very old brains can improve and heal with proper exercise and diet.
My report "Stop Aging Naturally"
gives more in-depth information on ways to slow the relentless march of time.
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