Intense Exercise to Potentially Delay Neurodegenerative Disorders

Taking six minutes out of your day to complete a high-intensity exercise can potentially elongate the brain's healthy lifespan and detain neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, according to a new study.

Whether running on the treadmill or lifting heavy weights, exercising is known to make your body healthier. People work out to not only lose weight but also gain muscle, and strength and improve their immunity. A new study published in the Journal of Physiology has revealed that exercise benefits us physically and mentally.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a particular protein that assists neuroplasticity, which allows our brains to create new pathways and authorize neurons to live. By boosting the accessibility of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), animal studies have revealed that it can aid our memory storage, strengthening cognitive and learning abilities. This has paved the way for researchers to study BDNF for aging.


The study showed that six minutes of high-intensity exercise can potentially elongate one's life by creating an active brain and detain neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Despite the short amount of time, intense exercise brings a specialized protein that is crucial for brain formation, learning and memory, allowing our brain to protect itself from aging and cognitive decline. Anyone can hop on the bandwagon by giving six minutes each day, with this easily accessible and affordable way of healthy aging.

In animal research, BDNF displayed promising results, yet pharmaceutical interference is yet to be proven safe in humans. The research team is now analyzing non-pharmacological methods to naturally protect our brain to naturally improve BDNF to aid with healthy aging.

What did the research find?

Researchers from the University of Otago, New Zealand studied the correlation between fasting and exercising on BDNF to see how it affects humans. They compared the following elements to see isolated and interactive effects:

  1. Fasting for 20 hours;
  2. Light exercise (90-minute low-intensity cycling);
  3. High-intensity exercise (a six-minute bout of vigorous cycling);
  4. Combined fasting and exercise.

The team revealed that brief but highly-intensive exercise was the most effective method to increase BDNF. Although the exact reason is unknown and more research is needed, one theory states that it may be relevant to the cerebral substrate switch and glucose metabolism, which is our brain's main fuel root.

In cerebral substrate switching, the brain changes from one preferred energy source to another to ensure that the body's energy needs are met, by metabolizing lactate instead of glucose during exercise. A shift in the brain from glucose to lactate uptake initiates pathways that lead to increased levels of BDNF in the blood. The rise in BDNF during high-intensity exercise may be due to an increase in the number of platelets that keep large amounts of BDNF. Circulating platelet concentrations are more affected by exercise than by fasting, heightening by 20 percent.

The study enrolled 12 physically active participants, including six males and six females aged 18 through 56. The balance of male and female participants is more representative of the population and does not indicate gender differences. More research is ongoing to analyze the effects of calorie restriction and exercise to differentiate between BDNF and its effects on cognitive benefits.


The research team is currently investigating how fasting for up to three days can affect BDNF, as fasting and exercise are rarely studied together. The team believes that fasting and exercise can be combined to maximize BDNF production in the human brain. The cerebral substrate switch occurs when our brain shifts the preferred source for a different one to make sure our energy commands are assembled.

How can exercise help with mental health?

Exercising, even if it's for a short time, can positively affect our bodies. Regular exercise can have great health benefits, especially for our mental health. Some scientifically proven benefits include improved sleep, less stress, increased energy and stamina, and even depletion of fatigue, which can create mental alertness. Regular exercise can also reduce cholesterol levels and enhance cardiovascular fitness.

Some easy and effective exercises include swimming, walking, gardening, or even dancing to your favorite song. Moving your body circulates your blood to the brain, allowing the body to destress. Exercising and moving your body releases endorphins, which are hormones known as the "happy hormones," benefiting our bodies. It can also give your mind a break from all the stress and anxiety-provoking thoughts.


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