April 15, 2007
Exercise makes you smarter: BDNF and the brain
Crabby just loves it when hard-working scientists in crisp white lab coats toil away for years in their dreary labs, just to give her more proof of what she already knows: Exercise is Really Good for You! People who work out are going to get big payoffs! People who don't will be totally, totally screwed!
Crabby hopes that you too, dear reader, also revel in the nitty gritty specifics of why exercise is so amazing for your body. Want some confirmation that those grueling 5 am morning runs or sweaty lunchtime spinning classes--or whatever form of self-torture you indulge in--are all worth it, because working out makes you a Superior Human? Well, here's some more. Pity those poor deadbeat drones who don't exercise. Pity their feeble brains, full of dead and dying neurons.
What's BDNF? It's part of the reason that your well-exercised brain will have perky, get-up-and-go neurons, neurons that can grow new connections and help you remember important stuff that lazy people can never remember, like their ATM passwords or their kids names.
John Ratey, in his book (not out quite yet) called "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" calls BDNF "Miracle-Gro for the Brain." Which is good, because BDNF just isn't a very catchy name, whereas Miracle-Gro is at least something you've heard of. But bottom line is: exercise increases your supply of Miracle-Gro, which helps your brain become strong and green and leafy (maybe not exactly, Crabby has to confess she didn't read the study all that closely) or at least it makes your brain better at growing the connections and pathways that help you learn and remember and be smarter and more knowledgeable.
Okay, but how do we know John Ratey isn't some kind of quack just trying to make a buck on brain fertilizer? Well, for one thing, he's a psychiatrist at Harvard. But also Newsweek recently did a big fat article on all this (and there's more great studies in there too), and Newsweek probably employs actual fact-checkers. So I'm trusting 'em on this.