Deciphering Brain Fog: How to Increase Your BDNF

By: Dr. Deborah Wong

1. Exercise

The link between BDNF and exercise has been known for a long time, but researchers have recently discovered that exercise actually activates the gene that sends a signal to create more BDNF.

All types of exercise help increase BDNF, but some types work better than others. Mind-body movements requiring co-ordination and multi plane movements such as dance, GYROTONIC, Pilates, Yoga were associated with higher levels of BDNF. High intensity exercises, were also associated with increases in BDNF.

The most important thing is to VARY your exercises to include aerobic and anaerobic exercises and movements that challenge your balance, co-ordination and include ALL THREE PLANES OF MOTION.

Tip: A favourite trick of mine mid-day when my brain needs a bit of wake up is to move my eyes side to side without moving my head. Everything we do on a day to day basis is pretty much on the same plane – up and down, forward and back. By moving my eyes side to side, it is a quick way to get my brain moving and aware of the coronal plane (horizontal plane).

2. Sun

Serum BDNF concentrations show strong seasonal variation and correlations with the amount of ambient sunlight. It was higher during spring and summer and lower during autumn and winter. 

A lot of people only know of sunlight as being beneficial for vitamin D absorption and production thinking that if they supplement with vitamin D, they do not need the sun. Supplemental vitamin D in a human trial did not increase BNDF and supplemental vitamin D in postmenopausal women actually showed a DECREASE in BNDF.

Tip: Walk out for lunch in the sun without an umbrella and beat the afternoon slump

3. Food

Intermittent fasting has shown to increase BNDF.  Lots of other foods have had associations with an increase BNDF. Although the mechanism isn’t clear, it is likely that these food are anti-inflammatory and reduce oxidative stress on the brain which in turn increases BNDF levels.

(Read more on our next blog post for the types of food that increase AND decrease your BDNF!) 

Tip: A really simple way to make sure you’re eating well is to think of your total daily food intake on a plate. 1/2 of it should be made up of dark green leafy vegetables, 1/4 of it complex carbohydrates from whole grains or fruits and the last 1/4 made up on high quality protein and fats.

4. Stress Reduction and Cognitive Stimulation

Stess reduction and the effects of stress on our body rightfully deserves an entire article on its’ own. Apart from BDNF, stress and stress reduction can affect our health in a variety of other ways through other biochemical mechanisms which we will not be discussing for now.

Chronic sleep deprivation, Chronic or acute stress and high levels of cortisol were associated with reduce BDNF.

Activities that provided cognitive stimulation, such as enjoyable social interactions, puzzles, learning and music showed an increase in BDNF.

We’ve always known that we should never stop learning, and that we age when we do. BDNF provides a biochemical explanation for these wise words.

Tip: Develop good sleep habits. Maintain a regular night routine, so your body knows it’s time to wind down, and try to head to bed the same time every night (even during the weekends!). Try to wake up the same time every morning too and without an alarm clock if possible.

Make an effort to schedule in weekly downtime, for your favourite activities or to just do absolutely nothing!

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