Six-minute workouts will make the brain work better: what exercises are needed

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Six-minute workouts will make the brain work better: what exercises are needed

A new study has found that short bursts of exercise increase levels of a certain brain protein known to optimize cognitive health.

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It's certainly not news that exercise is critical to healthy brain aging. A constant parade of research over the past few years has uncovered a link between exercise and cognitive health, from aerobic activity dramatically improving problem-solving ability to two weeks of exercise reducing the effects of mild cognitive impairment, New Atlas writes.

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But exactly how exercise helps the brain was not clear. This new research focused on a specific protein, dubbed BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is an important molecule involved in the growth, function, and survival of brain cells. It has also been found to improve memory and slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

“BDNF has shown great promise in animal models, but pharmaceutical interventions have so far failed to safely exploit the protective power of BDNF in humans,” said Travis Gibbons, lead author of the new study. “We saw the need to explore non-pharmacological approaches that could preserve the brain's capacity that humans can use to naturally increase BDNF to aid healthy aging.”

The aim of the study was to understand how fasting and exercise affect the production of BDNF. To do this, the researchers recruited a dozen healthy volunteers and tested their BDNF response to four different interventions: fasting for 20 hours, low-intensity cycling for 90 minutes, high-intensity vigorous cycling for six minutes, or combined fasting and low-intensity exercise.

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The results showed that short-term intense exercise dramatically increased circulating BDNF compared to all other interventions tested. But perhaps most interestingly, a short burst of high-intensity exercise was much more effective in increasing BDNF levels than a longer, low-intensity session.

“Six minutes of high-intensity cycle intervals increased each circulating BDNF score 4-5 times more than a long low-intensity cycle; the increase in plasma BDNF was generalized to a 6-fold increase in circulating lactate, regardless of feeding or fasting,” the study reported. “Compared to 1 day of fasting with or without long-term light exercise, high-intensity exercise is a much more effective means of increasing BDNF in circulation.”

It is important to note that the focus of the study was very narrow. The scientists only looked at how exercise and/or fasting affect plasma levels of BDNF. Thus, any subsequent interpretation regarding the prevention of dementia or brain aging is still highly speculative.

However, given the wealth of pre-existing evidence that exercise improves cognition and BDNF levels are associated with health brain, these results really add new pieces to the puzzle of how best to support the aging brain. And according to Gibbons, further research is already underway to explore additional ways that exercise affects BDNF.

“We are now studying how fasting for longer periods, up to three days, for example, affects BDNF. “, Gibbons said. “We are curious if heavy exercise at the start of fasting accelerates the beneficial effects of fasting. Fasting and exercise are rarely studied together. We believe that fasting and exercise can be used together to optimize BDNF production in the human brain.”