Exactly What Does Exercise Do To the Brain December 07, 2016 12:08

Do not misread this... not FOR the brain, but TO the brain.  This gets a little technical.

The effects of exercise on brain function start with triggering of the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, first discovered by researchers at University of California-Irvine (UCI). This is the essential protein which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones. Basically, you lace up and get on the tennis court and you’ve stimulated brain cell regeneration by exercise. BDNF is like a natural brain fertilizer.

With aging, however, BDNF levels fall. The decline is considered one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely, aerobic exercises that get your heart pumping, are thought to counteract these drops and help restore youthful levels to better protect the aging brain and offset dementia.

Research has also shown that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, protecting cognitive abilities like memory and motor skills. The blood carries oxygen and feeds brain tissues.

There’s a growing body of research that has determined that exercise acts on multiple levels in the brain. Here’s how it works. The brain’s wiring depends on the integrity of the brain cells or neurons, as well as the connections between the neurons, or the synapses. With aging, the synapses are lost or break down.

UCI’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders has studied the effects of exercise extensively on the brains of mice. Researchers have found that exercise increases the number of synapses and also stimulates the brain to develop more neurons in the hippocampus, a key area for learning and memory formation and a target of decline in Alzheimer’s disease.