Harvard Psychiatrist and Author Dr. John J. Ratey even went so far as touting BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” Of course, this form of brain fertilizer doesn’t make the brain actually bigger in physical size, albeit it would be quite amusing seeing runners with bungling alien-shaped heads. The real growth happens from within whereas a plethora of brain-enhancing stimuli floods the brain, especially in the hippocampal areas for learning and memory. BDNF simply makes brain nerve cells bigger, faster, and stronger. It performs a host of brain-friendly functions by facilitating the birth of new brain cells (neurogenesis), forming new neural connections (synaptogenesis), protecting cells from oxidative stress, and aiding in the creation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). This predominance of newfound neural activity and efficiency has been associated with substantial cognitive improvement and alleviation of anxiety and depression.
Increasing brain power, decreasing inflammation, protection from neurodegenerative diseases, having a natural antidepressant, and potentially lengthening our life span are universal gains that appeal to all of us, runners or not. So, are there any other BDNF-beneficial things you can do to think more clearly, remember things, juggle tasks better, raise your I.Q., figure out how to win the Mega Millions? Of course, there is! No promises on the lotto, but here are some essential BDNF-rich habits: deep sleep (Stages 3 & 4), daily meditation, yoga, dance, sunlight exposure, caloric restriction via intermittent fasting, polyphenols (plant-based phytonutrients), omega-3 (EPA & DHA), and probiotics supplementation.