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Six minutes of daily exercise can boost brain health, delay Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s, study says

Just six minutes of vigorous exercise a day can extend brain life and delay the onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study.

The research, published last week in The Journal of Physiology, discovered that a short but intense period of cycling can increase the production of a special brain protein linked to brain formation, learning and memory.

Scientists, including those at the University of Otago in New Zealand, say the special protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may protect the brain against age-related cognitive decline.

Previous studies have shown that increasing the availability of BDNF in the brain promotes the formation and storage of memories, improves learning and also improves overall cognitive performance.

“BDNF has shown promise in animal models, but pharmaceutical interventions have so far failed to safely harness the protective power of BDNF in humans,” lead author Travis Gibbons of the University of Otago said in a statement.

“We saw the need to explore non-pharmacological approaches that can preserve brain capacity that people can use to naturally increase BDNF to aid in healthy aging,” said Dr. gibbons.

In the new study, researchers analyzed the influence of fasting and exercise on BDNF production in 12 physically active participants — six men and six women between the ages of 18 and 56.

They assessed the contributing role played in the production of this protein by factors such as 20 hours of fasting, light exercise, six minutes of high-intensity cycling, and the combined effects of fasting and exercise.

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Scientists found that short, but vigorous exercise was the best way to increase BDNF compared to fasting for one day with or without a long session of light exercise.

Researchers say that BDNF increased by a factor of four to five times compared to fasting or prolonged activity.

“Six-minute high-intensity cycling intervals increased each metric of circulating BDNF by 4 to 5 times more than long-term low-intensity cycling,” researchers wrote in the study.

However, the cause of these differences remains unknown, they say, adding that more research is needed to understand the biological mechanisms involved.

Scientists suspect that during exercise, the brain switches from one preferred source of fuel to another to ensure that the body’s energy needs are met.

“We are now investigating how prolonged fasting, for example up to three days, affects BDNF. We are curious to see if training hard at the beginning of a fast accelerates the beneficial effects of fasting,” said Dr. gibbons.

“Fasting and exercise are rarely studied together. We think that fasting and exercise can be used together to optimize BDNF production in the human brain,” he added.

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