6 minutes of exercise can help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s

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By Cara Murez

Health Day Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 12, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Six minutes of high-intensity exercise could extend the lifespan of a healthy brain and potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, a new, small study suggests.

Researchers found that brief but intense cycling increased production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is essential for brain formation, learning and memory. It is believed that BDNF could protect the brain from age-related mental decline.

“BDNF has shown great promise in animal models, but pharmaceutical interventions have failed to safely harness the protective power of BDNF in humans,” said study lead author Travis Gibbons, of the University of Otago in New Zealand.

“We saw a need to explore non-pharmacological approaches that can preserve the brain’s ability that people can use to naturally increase BDNF to support healthy aging,” Gibbons said.

The report was published on January 11 in Journal of Physiology.

BDNF boosts the brain’s ability to form new connections and pathways, and also helps neurons survive. Animal studies have shown that increasing the availability of BDNF increases cognitive performance such as thinking, arguing or remembering.

For this study, the researchers wanted to investigate the influence of fasting and exercise on BDNF production in humans.

Working with a dozen men and women, investigators compared fasting, 90 minutes of low-intensity cycling, six-minutes of high-intensity cycling, and a combination of fasting and exercise.

Short but vigorous exercise is the most efficient way to increase BDNF compared to a day of fasting with or without lengthy, low-intensity exercise, the researchers said.

BDNF increased four to five times more compared to fasting, which showed no BDNF change, or prolonged activity, which showed a slight increase in BDNF.

More work is needed to better understand these results, the study authors noted.

The researchers hypothesize that the brain switches its preferred energy source for another to meet the body’s energy needs. This could mean that lactate is being metabolized instead of glucose during exercise, which could potentially initiate pathways leading to more BDNF in the blood.

The BDNF surge could be due to an increased number of platelets, which store large amounts of BDNF. This is more influenced by exercise than fasting, they explained.

Ongoing research will further examine the effects of calorie restriction and exercise.

“We are now studying how prolonged fasting, for example up to three days, affects BDNF,” Gibbons said in a press release from the journal. “We’re curious to see if hard training early in the fast 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.”

More information

The US National Library of Medicine has more on BDNF.

SOURCE: journal of physiology, Press release, January 11, 2023

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6 minutes of exercise can help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s
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