It begins with increasing levels of Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is part of a class of brain chemicals called neurotropins (proteins that help cells to grow). BDNF is a naturally occurring protein (in our brains) that acts on the brain and peripheral nervous system supporting the growth of neurons (nerve cells) and synapses (the area of communication between nerve cells). BDNF is really a catalyst that helps increase brain function. Dr. John Ratey, Harvard University professor, refers to BDNF as "Miracle-Gro" for the brain.
Decreased levels of BDNF has been linked to an increased risk of depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's Disease and dementia, and attention deficit disorder. So how do you increase BDNF? Exercise is the number one thing that you can do to increase BDNF.
Exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus area of the brain, which is the memory region of the brain. A sedentary lifestyle decreases physical movement, which impacts your brains readiness to learn and promotes obesity. This in turn taxes your brain. Aging can have a similar effect. As you age you get more glucose build up in your brain, which can lead to cognitive decline and even Alzheimer's. Even ten to fifteen minutes of exercise promotes the release of neurotransmitters, but ideally 30 to 40 minutes of moderately intense exercise daily is recommended. The best type of exercise to promote BDNF is anything that includes high intensity intervals and raises heart rate up to at least 75% of maximum heart rate.
Other ways to increases BDNF include eating healthy fats from fish (like salmon), nuts (like walnuts), and avocados. A diet high in saturated fat can actually decrease BDNF. Turmeric, a popular spice, increases BDNF. Turmeric is found in curry recipes and population studies from India (where turmeric and curry are abundantly used in cooking) show that Alzheimer's is 75% less common there as compared to the United States.
Here are three things you can do today to raise BDNF, improve mental clarity and decrease our risk for depression and Alzheimer's disease.
1. Exercise for at least 30 minutes
2. Snack on ¼ cup of walnuts
3. Serve up a curry dish for dinner.
Make it happen, today.