Want more brain power? Try increasing your BDNF—brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Neurotrophins are the proteins that stimulate and manage the growth of new neurons—cells in the brain and nervous system. While there are many different neurotrophins in the brain, BDNF is the most active and important. In addition to promoting the growth of new neurons, BDNF also prevents the death of existing brain cells and supports cognitive functioning.
Normal levels of BDNF are associated with optimal cognitive performance and brain functioning. By contrast, many problems in cognitive functioning are associated with low levels of BDNF including learning deficits, and problems in attention and short-term memory. Interestingly, levels of BDNF are also associated with premature aging, obesity, depression, and even schizophrenia.
So, if you’re now feeling motivated to increase it, here are some ways. The best is intense exercise. Not only will you obtain the psychological and physical benefits of intense and frequent exercise, but you will also increases BDNF and stimulates new brain cells. Unlike endorphins, which provide an immediate dopamine increase and noticeable mood boost like a runner’s high, BDNF’s effects occur after a period of consistent prolonged intense exercise and are not immediately apparent. It takes time to see the effects.
Another great way to boost BDNF is by spending time in the sun. Research suggests that your BDNF levels are correlated with the number of hours you spend in the sunshine because it increases Vitamin D which increases BDNF. Lastly, stay socially connected. We are social creatures and isolation takes a negative toll on mental and physical health. Research suggests that social enriched environments increase BDNF.
SO, if you’re looking for a drug-free way to boost your brain power, try some intense exercise, sunshine and socializing. And, you just might feel a little sharper.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.