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

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About the Author: Laura Araujo

Laura Araujo is the co-founder of The MAPS Institute, a classically trained vocalist, and a practitioner of Ashtanga, classic Indian yoga. She is the creator of the MAPS (Mindfulness, Activation, Purpose, and Surrender) philosophy and is in continual pursuit of helping her students find balance amid the chaos around and within them.

Dr. Friedman earned his doctorate in Psychology for New York University and received Post-Doctoral Training in Psychoanalysis for the Training and research institute for Self Psychology in New York City. He worked as an eating disorders psychotherapist at the esteemed Renfrew Center of New York and is on the Faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. For more than 10 years he has worked as a psychologist with adults, couples and Families. As his practice has evolved, it became clear to him that something was missing from traditional psychotherapeutic approaches. Curiosity and a chance meeting led him to discover the word of Nutritional Psychology, which teaches that many psychological issues are caused or made worse by underlying biochemical/ nutritional deficiencies. Further exploration led him to the practice of yoga, with its emphasis on breathing, meditation and movement for emotional centering. To enhance his effectiveness in helping patients to heal and grow, he became certified as Holistic Health Counselor at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. To go deeper into the hidden physical causes of mental health symptoms, he has studied with nutritional mental health leaders, Dr. William Walsh and Julia Ross. Additionally, Dr. Friedman became a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and is close to becoming a “Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner” through Functional Medicine University. Dr. Friedman’s practice in Omaha, Nebraska offers integrative psychotherapy services which combines the healing power of insight-oriented psychotherapy with education about lifestyle and nutritional tools that have shown scientific efficacy in improving mental health symptoms. He also has a telehealth business, Alternative Mental Health Solution, that offers functional medicine help for people with mental health issues in the US and around the world. Click here to visit his site.



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