February 22, 2021


Minute read

The Powerful, but Little-Known Relationship Between Fitness and BDNF

You have probably heard that you are supposed to get in your 10,000 steps each day. And you’ve probably read a articles or watched news segments that reinforce why sitting all day is less than ideal for your health.

So, it begs the question: why is our modern world still so stagnant?

On average, Americans spend ten hours sitting every day. TEN hours.

We spend another six to eight hours on our backs, leaving only about six hours of time moving around — and there’s a good chance that some of that time is spent in the shower or standing in front of the refrigerator!

Now, I’m not trying to make you feel sad, bad, or guilty.

Rather, seeing as how simply telling us that we need to move more isn’t doing the trick, I want to share with you a special little protein that I think will incentivize you to get a little more motion into your day.

It’s what I think of as your brain’s fertilizer: brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF.

Living the BDNF Lifestyle!

It’s more than a protein though, I think of it as a lifestyle! #TGFBDNF

Okay, maybe it’s not a lifestyle, per se, but it is probably the most powerful and important chemical our bodies unleash when we move.

It’s sort of funny, because you’ve probably heard about other movement-related body chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine — those glory-hungry little buggers! — but BDNF is the real deal.


BDNF is critical because it allows for sustainable, long-term brain heath. It does this by allowing nerve cells, or neurons, to not only make new connections, but repair nerve cells that have been damaged.

And it helps with memory function, which if you’re predisposed to the Alzheimers gene (apolipoprotein E, or APOE) could be tremendously helpful in slowing things down.

It also helps, specifically, with the function and preservation of the hippocampus — which begins to shrink, bit-by-bit, after the age of 20.

The greatest benefit, however, is the increased level of neuroplasticity that it creates.

This plasticity means your brain becomes more adaptable — something that scientists once believed was impossible.

Today, however, they are seeing our brain’s ability to build new connections, thicken neuropathways, protect myelin sheaths (think the rubber on the outside of your iPhone cord) and speed up dendritic connections.

This is all caused by the release of FNDC5, which triggers BDNF production when we are physically active.

Movement = Brain Health

Most importantly, this malleability helps us to cultivate new and sustainable habits, and increases the functioning of the Prefrontal cortex, granting us better brain function and focus.  

There have been many recent studies investigating the relationships between nutrition, movement, breath retention, and fasting, which have been found to respectively increase BDNF and offer tremendous benefit for those challenged with Metabolic Syndrome.

What it all comes down to is the beautiful complexity of our bodies. Moving isn’t just about building muscles or improving our cardiovascular health — it can have a tremendously positive impact on our brains too — which is why I’m such a BDNF fan-girl.

Not to mention, all this BDNF goodness has another positive effect: it makes you feel good and gives you a sustainable, high-value, and not-over-stimulating natural dopamine hit.

So, there’s really only one question left: what are your favorite ways to move and how are you going to move today?

Image credit: Charles Cheng

About the Author: Laura Araujo

Passionate about accessible education and evidence-based wellness, Laura founded The MAPS Institute, an educational wellness editorial and platform. Aside from her passion for research and educating, Laura is a classically trained vocalist, sound therapist, and a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga and Restorative Yoga. She is the creator of the MAPS (Mindfulness, Activation, Purpose, and Surrender) philosophy and is in continual pursuit of helping her students and herself find balance amid the chaos around and within them. When not sifting through Nature Magazine, complaining about their paywalls, she enjoys trying new wine varietals, experimenting in the kitchen, riding her bicycle (sometimes cross-country), and spending time with her husband Charlie, cockapoo Miles, and expected baby girl, Ella.  Click here to follow the MAPS Institute on social media.



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