BDNF – THE CORRELATION BETWEEN EXERCISE & MENTAL HEALTH

Okay, I am not a scientist nor do I play one on tv but after a discussion with a very respected and high-caliber mental-health professional in Costa Rica that the family knows, I am going to try and decipher and transfer this knowledge to the best of my ability – because I think it´s immensely important.

Two years of hyper-vigilance and being in survival-mode during the pandemic drains serotonin levels as burnout and exhaustion hit home. (I am going through this now) We can start looking for other avenues to replace the physical interaction we had before in martial arts, combatives, or self-defence, swimming, running, tennis, whatever – most often quick-fix and negative. Cigarettes, alcohol, becoming sedentary, relying more on tech to fill the gap, etc. 

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor - Wikipedia

A study done in 2006 that has since to this day provided progressive and even more advanced studies, by the University of California with specialists from San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, have correlated a direct relation between exercise and mental-health. This pertains to what is called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor”, a gene which encodes a protein active in the pre-frontal cortex, basal forebrain, and hippocampus imperative to learning, memory, cognitive function, and higher-thinking. In a nutshell, neuroplasticity. (https://blog.mandirigmafma.com/index.php/2021/11/10/neurogenesis-neuroplasticity/ ) Some of the conclusions arrived at from that vast, intensive study and those following, in point-form:

-30 minutes of exercise every day – walking, running, swimming, wrestling, playing tennis, whatever. Any amount – 60 minutes, 90 minutes – over has no greater effect on endorphins, though can increase stamina & fitness, build muscle, strengthen the heart, etc. but zero additional effect on endorphins – fundamental. Walking is sufficient – 15 minutes one way, 15 minutes back, no special shoes…just. walking. If you want to intersperse it on other days with a different activity, fine, but get back to walking the following day

-1-3 times a week – won´t help, 4 times a week has greater value, 5-6 times a week leads to endorphin-accumulation

-preferably outdoors as there are lots of different stimuli in the environment to alleviate negativity and focus attention on that stimuli

-endorphins are the equivalent of the body´s natural morphine, they last for hours oftentimes into the night or next day to affect our behavior and positivity, and sometimes accumulate when done over a period of time

When should you exercise? Study finds effects of morning, evening workout |  Health - Hindustan Times

-most psychological, medical, psychiatric follow-ups are 6 months, a year, or 2 years before losing response to a particular medication for mental-health – with regular routine of exercise, many follow-ups stay positive up to 3 years on-average

-endorphins are the equivalent of the body´s natural morphine, they last for hours oftentimes into the night or next day to affect our behavior and positivity, and sometimes accumulate when done over a period of time

-exercise can stimulate beneficial brain-responses, which results in an increase in BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is a protein that increases neurogenesis, cognitive function and has been linked to countering conditions like depression-schizophrenia-OCD-Alzheimer´s-dementia and others, acts as a clean-up function for your brain

-natural way to keep brain sharp and muscles relaxed

-feel more intelligent, inventive, active, creative / improve daily routine of sleep/awakening – endorphins also diminish cortisol which is an energy-drainer (cortisol is that thing whose release is triggered by sustained and ongoing stress or sudden high-adrenaline-dump)

-if our Circadian rhythm (here the sleep-wake cycle) it can have a drastic effect on mental-health with ongoing and increased cortisol levels. We can become flat or emotionally-dead upon waking with ongoing stres due to lowered serotonin levels. Exercise is also believed to aid in this process and increase serotonin levels that ongoing stress and anxiety deplete

In 2019, a study was done on 56 elite judo athletes from the Brazilian national judo team before and after a hard training session that yielded an exponentially higher BDNF-level in all participants, both male and female. ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30970084/ )

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As BDNF also has been found to increase or decrease in accordance with daily stresses, anxiety, and state, and how the brain responds to these daily elements from an emotional perspective, if it´s high it also has the great potential to manage these elements. Greater and quicker decision-making capabilty, higher-percentage choice selection, stress-management, resilience, and the like. And I don´t think I need to explain to you how imperative those areas are to the areas of risk-, danger-, and threat-assessment, conflict management, and combat-efficiency. (They´re paramount)

What are some things we can do to improve BDNF?

  1. As mentioned, exercise. ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30077618/ )
  2. Get sufficient sleep. ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5725585/ )
  3. Reduce processed foods and sugar. ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12088740/ )
  4. Get ambient sunlight. ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3487856/ )
  5. Be socially-active, developing social-connections wisely. ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28593903/ )
  6. Manage your stress levels and see #2 when already consistently stressed. ( https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0076050 )
  7. Meditate or do yoga. ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483482/ )

So, those in a nutshell, are some pretty important reasons to exercise totally apart from fitness and martial-achievement or combat-readiness – and to generally create practices that keep BDNF high. And to combat a far greater and more dire threat – one that´s not lurking around the corner when we stumble upon a bad place but a daily, innocuous, covert one that wears aware the fabric of our mental-balance. The self-defense benefits, if we truly understand that mental-health, mindset, mentality, mission-statement and the like are of utter importance and far supersede physical ability, are written in-between the lines in the above points. We have always understood that martial-efficacy and combat-efficiency are connected to physical-ability but we rarely look at exercise as a tool to enhance mental-capability, cognition, the ability to make sharp quick decisions, think critically, adapt, develop resiliency, and a host of other intangibles that far supersede physical talent. 

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