Six minutes of high-intensity exercise vital for brain health, study finds

A new study reveals that six minutes of high-intensity cycling could delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.  File photo by Air Images/Shutterstock

A new study reveals that six minutes of high-intensity cycling could delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. File photo by Air Images/Shutterstock

January 12 (UPI) — A new study reveals that six minutes of high-intensity cycling could delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The study, published Wednesday in The Journal of Physiology, found that short but intense bouts of exercise increased production of a specialized protein vital for brain formation, learning and memory, which could prolong lifespan of a healthy brain.

The specialized protein, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, promotes neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections and pathways. BDNF also promotes neuronal survival and has become a key component in studies of aging, according to researchers at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

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

The researchers also looked at the influence of fasting on BDNF production, alone and in combination with various forms of exercise.

They had 12 physically active men and women, ages 18 to 56, fasting for 20 hours, exercising at low intensity for 90 minutes, and exercising at high intensity for six minutes, as well as ‘to combine fasting and exercise.

Overall, the researchers found that brief but vigorous exercise was the most effective way to increase BDNF compared to fasting with or without a long bout of light exercise. BDNF increased four to five times more with brief, intense exercise compared with fasting or prolonged exercise.

Although more research is needed, the study hypothesizes that the increase in BDNF may be related to the change in brain substrate and the metabolism of glucose, which is the brain’s main fuel source. With shorter, high-intensity exercise, the cerebral transition from glucose to lactate consumption initiates pathways to elevate blood BDNF levels.

The researchers also believe that an increase in BDNF during exercise could be due to a higher concentration of platelets, which store large amounts of BDNF.

Study researchers continue to analyze the effects of calorie restriction and exercise on BDNF and brain health.

“We are curious whether intensive exercise at the start of a fast accelerates the beneficial effects of fasting,” Gibbons said. “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.”

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