Alzheimer’s disease: How a quick daily workout could reduce the risk of memory loss

Jan 18, 2023
Researchers have found that short intensive workouts have the potential to stop the debilitating memory loss associated with Alzheimer's. Source: Getty Images.

Short, quick sessions of high-intensity exercise may be the key to potentially protecting your brain from neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

According to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand, six minutes of regular intensive workouts increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays an important role in brain formation and memory.

While medical treatments like antidepressants and ketamine boost BDNF protein levels, lead study author, Travis Gibbons, believes that exercise could potentially be a way for people to increase their BDNF levels without the need for pharmaceuticals.

“BDNF has shown great promise in animal models, but pharmaceutical interventions have thus far failed to safely harness the protective power of BDNF in humans,” he said in a press release.

“We saw the need to explore non-pharmacological approaches that can preserve the brain’s capacity, which humans can use to naturally increase BDNF to help with healthy aging.”

Though research into the correlation between memory loss and exercise isn’t new, previous studies looked at the exercise hormone irisin – a messenger protein that is generated by muscle tissue that is carried around the body in the bloodstream.

In this new study, Gibbons and his team look at the impact of exercise and fasting in relation to people’s BDNF levels.

The team recruited 12 physically active and healthy individuals (six males and six females between 18 and 56 years old), asking them to do two exercise sessions on a stationary bike. One after having a light meal and the other after fasting for 20 hours.

During the session, the team collected blood samples from the participants before they were asked to do 90 minutes of light cycling. After 90 minutes, the participants were asked to immediately do six minutes of high-intensity cycling intervals before having samples of their blood collected again.

Based on the samples, the researchers found that BDNF concentration increased up to five times more after the high-intensity intervals whereas there was no change in BDNF concentration after fasting and prolonged light exercise.

“I was surprised that 20 hours of fasting did not affect BDNF responses,” Gibbon said.

“A human may need to fast for 48 to 72 hours to see BDNF effects.”

The researchers concluded that whether a person is fed or fasted, high-intensive workouts were more effective in increasing BDNF.

“Exercise may be a healthy stimulus for the blood vessels in the brain,” Gibbons suggested.

“Vascular dementia is a common neurodegenerative disease and improvements in vascular health likely protect against this form of dementia.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up