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Testosterone Surge after Exercise May Help Remodel the Mind

September 28, 2012

Story at-a-glance

  • Mild exercise activates hippocampal neurons in the brain, which helps with the creation of new brain cells
  • Short periods of intense exercise have a proven positive effect on increasing testosterone levels, which may benefit your brain health
  • Exercise boosts brain health through multiple pathways, including hormone production, increased blood flow to your brain, and even stress reduction (the stress hormone cortisol may inhibit the growth of new brain cells)
  • Staying active with a variety of activities is best, as each type of exercise may offer unique benefits for your brain health and may even help your brain to grow as you get older, rather than shrink

By Dr. Mercola

Most of the praise associated with exercise is typically geared toward its cardiovascular benefits and its role in weight loss and muscle toning/strength.

Often overlooked is the phenomenal role exercise plays in supporting your brain health and even spurring the creation of new brain cells (a process called neurogenesis).

Now researchers have revealed one of the mechanisms that makes exercise such a powerful tool for brain health: a natural boost in testosterone.

Exercise Boosts Brain Testosterone Levels, Builds New Brain Cells

The hippocampus is a major component of your brain. It belongs to the primitive part of your brain known as the limbic system and plays an important role in the consolidation of information from your short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. A new animal study found that not only does mild exercise activate hippocampal neurons, it actually promotes their growth. In the brain, this also, in turn, helps with the creation of new brain cells.1 Even though the study included only male rats, the scientists believe the results apply to humans.

Interestingly, researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago have discovered a couple of other mechanisms that help explain how exercise helps new brain cells to form.

It appears that exercise lowers the activity of bone-morphogenetic protein or BMP, which slows the production of new brain cells. At the same time, exercise increases Noggin, a brain protein that acts as a BMP antagonist. The more Noggin present in your brain, the less BMP activity there is, and the more stem cell divisions and neurogenesis (production of new brain cells) takes place.2

What's the Best Type of Exercise for Boosting Testosterone?

Researchers from the featured study found that even mild to moderate exercise boosts testosterone enough to improve brain health. Short periods of intense exercise also have a proven positive effect on increasing testosterone levels and preventing its usual age-related decline (which typically begins around age 30 in men).

Additionally, combining short bursts of high-intensity exercise like Peak Fitness with intermittent fasting will also boost your growth hormone levels. Intermittent fasting boosts testosterone by increasing the expression of satiety hormones including insulin, leptin, adiponectin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), colecystokinin (CKK) and melanocortins, all of which are known to potentiate healthy testosterone actions, increase libido and prevent age-related testosterone decline.

You can find more information about this in an article previously written on intermittent fasting, and here's a summary of what a typical high-intensity Peak Fitness routine might look like:

  • Warm up for three minutes
  • Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds
  • Recover at a slow to moderate pace for 90 seconds
  • Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times

As you can see, the entire workout is only 20 minutes. That really is a beautiful thing. And within those 20 minutes, 75 percent of that time is warming up, recovering or cooling down. You're really only working out intensely for four minutes. It's hard to believe if you have never done this, that you can actually get that much benefit from only four minutes of intense exercise, but that's all it is. You can see a demonstration in the video below.

If You Want a Healthy Brain, Exercise is a Must

Exercise boosts brain health through multiple pathways, many of them likely yet to be discovered. One study, for instance, revealed that when mice exercised, they grew an average of 6,000 new brain cells in every cubic millimeter of tissue sampled.3 The growth occurred in the hippocampus, which is considered the memory center of your brain, and the mice showed significant improvements in the ability to recall memories without any confusion.

Exactly why exercise has this effect isn't entirely known, but researchers speculated it could be due to higher levels of hormones released, as discussed earlier, increased blood flow to your brain, or even stress reduction (the stress hormone cortisol may inhibit the growth of new brain cells).

Animal tests have illustrated that during exercise their nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and has a direct benefit on cognitive functions, including enhanced learning. Further, exercise provides protective effects to your brain through:

  • The production of nerve-protecting compounds
  • Greater blood flow to your brain
  • Improved development and survival of neurons
  • Decreased risk of heart disease and stroke

So if you value your brainpower, you'll want to make certain that exercise is a regular part of your life. Staying active with a variety of activities is best, as each type of exercise may offer unique benefits for your brain health and may even help your brain to grow as you get older, rather than shrink – which is the norm, sadly, as many people do not stay active as they age. Exercise is so powerful, yet it remains one of the most neglected areas of health. If you're not already an avid exerciser, what's holding you back?

Perhaps you believe your size is preventing you from exercising, or that it won't make a big difference. Perhaps you have a handicap, or feel like you're too old, too out of shape, or too frail to exercise.

Whatever your reason might be, try reading these examples of exercise inspiration. By the end, I suspect you may be ready to change your tune, and I hope, for your sake, that you are.

Exercising sets into motion a beneficial feedback loop that leads to greater levels of health body-wide, while lack of exercise makes your health spiral downward and opens the door to disease and premature aging. Health benefits of exercise expand far beyond even your muscles and your brain to include:

Improving your brainpower and boosting your IQ Lowering your risk of heart disease and cancer Building strong bones
Lowering your blood pressure Curing insomnia Losing weight
Relieving pain Balancing your mood and fighting depression Increasing your energy levels
Acquiring fewer colds Lowering your risk of diabetes and reversing pre-diabetes Slowing down your aging process

Previous ArticlePhysical Fitness in Childhood Linked to Higher Reading and Math Scores Next ArticleHow Exercise Influences Hunger and Weight Loss

Sources and References

  • 1 Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 7;109(32):13100-5.
  • 2 PLoS One October 20, 2009; 4(10):e7506
  • 3 PNASJanuary 19, 2010
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