Four studies released in 2011 confirmed what millions of fitness fanatics have known for decades: exercise benefits the brain.
Each of the studies focused on pre- and post-exercise levels of BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, in their subjects’ brains. BDNF is a protein known to encourage the growth of new neurons and synapses. Other research has linked an increased concentration of BDNF with learning and memory.
Scientists have long known that exercise triggers the body to produce more BDNF, but the 2011 studies took their research a step further to find out how increased BDNF actually affected memory.
In an Irish study, published in October, male college students who cycled before taking a face-name matching test performed better than students who did not cycle. The cyclists also had higher levels of BDNF after long after exercising, leading the study’s authors to write that they believe BDNF plays a role in “exercise-induced cognitive enhancement in humans.”
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