This year I want to exercise more, but not because I want to lose weight! I hear many resolutions at the beginning of a new year to shed unwanted kilos. These are made with the notion that effort will be required, and with such a resolution must come a resolve for active pursuit. We already know this, right? So I’m not writing with any advice on maintaining this resolution into the new year, and I’m certainly not going to be addressing the success rate of such goals that are set over and over as the fireworks erupt on January 1!
What about the ability to absorb and retain information? I don’t often hear this as a resolution, and even less so in relation to an exercise program. Even though we embark on a new year with fresh expectations to change our world, reality is that most of us return to surroundings of familiar stimuli that do not generate physiological expansion of the mind.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein found in the brain with the function of building the circuitry of cells by which the brain functions. It is responsible for ensuring adequate storage space for any new information that is to be taken on board. In the absence of BDNF, new information is rejected from the brain in the same way that items are rejected from an already overflowing storage locker. It just can’t fit in! Learning difficulties are reported in people where BDNF is deficient. This is due to cellular breakdown within the brain, which brings about a scattering of messages and a reduced ability to focus.
Clinical evidence is now showing us that exercise not only increases the presence of BDNF in the brain, but that there is a close correlation with the accumulation of exercise. Higher exercise levels (frequency and duration) are associated with higher levels of BDNF in the Hippocampus – the long term storage area of the brain where memories are filed – effectively creating more storage space in the brain via the addition of new storage units.
The essence of this is much the same as the resolution to lose weight in the new year – effort is required to make yourself smarter! Don’t leave it to chance through the ticking away of another year in the hope that experience from time on earth will bring about wisdom. A proactive approach to build and fill brain cells with new information will ensure you end the year wiser than you began.