Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bodybuilding and Students: your brain functions better after exercise. By Veeraj V. Goyaram

Bodybuilding and Students Series

Science shows How Your Brain Functions Better after Exercise
By Veeraj V. Goyaram/ Cape Town, South Africa
My parents always say that I became brighter in my studies when I took up bodybuilding at the age of 14 (Form 4). Later during my undergraduate education, whenever I was stuck with some difficult problem, the same problem would solve itself after a gym session. I was also always in the gym on the eve of most of my major exams. Very often, during my postgraduate education, instead of going home after a grueling night session at the gym, I would go back to the university laboratory and work until late night or early morning. Furthermore, most of the writing of the articles on this website and my masters thesis was done during my post-exercise "mental high" phase. I am sure that most of you must have felt a similar effect. 
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Your hero found: Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor 

Resistance and Endurance exercise both increase BDNF
The processes and biological chemicals regulating brain functioning are very complex and as such there may be many molecules, known and yet unknown, that may contribute to the "feel good" effect after exercise.  However, quite recently, research has shown that physical activity increases the expression of a protein called the the brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain of rats. Subsequently, several studies were undertaken in humans to see a) whether this protein is also increased after exercise and b) to establish the link between this increase and the enhancement of mood and cognitive functions exercise (Yarrow et al., 2010). Indeed, plasma and/or serum BDNF concentration were increased after exercise in humans (Matthews et al., 2009) and this provided cognitive benefits (described below)

How does BDNF work?
Although originally thought to be produced only in the brain, BDNF is also produced in a variety of body tissues, like skeletal muscle (Fig 1) after which it is released into the bloodstream and transported to the brain. BDNF crosses the blood-brain barrier easily for entry into the brain where it brings about its various functions. Of note, BDNF has activity in the region of the brain called the hippocampus which is involved with memory and learning.  
Figure 1: BDNF protein levels increase in skeletal muscle after exercise
The top right picture shows muscle fibres stained for BDNF protein
(Pedersen et al, 2010)
Exercise-induced BDNF provides cognitive mental benefits to students
In one study by researchers in Texas, USA (Ferris et al., 2007), students were made to cycle for 20 minutes at two different intensities (low and high). The researchers used a test called the Stroop Test to assess the cognitive abilities of the students. This test measures the ability of the brain to deal with information.  The students performed better at the test after high intensity exercise, as shown in the graph below. The researchers found that the increase in BDNF after exercise was dependent on the intensity of the cycling exercise as higher intensity exercise increases BDNF levels to a greater extent. This explains the better results in the test at higher intensity.
Figure 2: Students performed better at the Stroop Test after high intensity
cycling exercise compared to low intensity exercise.
(Adapted from Ferris et al.,  2007)
Benefits of BDNF not limited to memory, learning and cognition
Interestingly, the health benefits of exercise-induced BDNF is not limited to the effects of the molecule on the brain. BDNF has also shown promise in obesity and type 2 diabetes. This explains partly why exercise also plays an important role in treating these diseases.  
Figure 3: Medical conditions associated with low circulating levels of BDNF
(Pedersen et al., 2006)
The take-home lessons and a message to parents
  • Exercise is one of the greatest remedies for both mental and physical problems. Exercise produces so many factors that aid tremendously in health and your body's functioning. If your doctor only prescribes medications and psychoactive drugs do not hesitate to discuss the possibility of also including an exercise program in your treatment. If you are a medical student, seriously learn more about the kind of studies cited in this and other Bodybuilding Mauritius articles. These research papers show a molecular basis of exercise-induced health improvement. Always keep an open mind and do not become a prescribing machine. Do not select a speciality that will only bring a lot of money. Consider becoming a specialist in exercise and sports medicine. Exercise is indeed medicine.
  • If you are a student, balance your studies with some form of exercise. A personal tip is to go to train after school for some time before you start homework and revision. Contrary to what students think, you must not give up training during exams period, probably step down a bit in frequency and intensity. I have personally always been in the gym on the eve of all my major exams. You must plan your study and revision accordingly. 
  • Do the tasks that require the greatest mental ability after training but don't forget that you also need to recover from training.
  • If you are a parent, encourage your child to exercise or participate in sports. Contrary to what you may believe, exercise and sports won't distract your child from  his studies. On the contrary, these activities help his studies as has been shown above. Do not pressurise your children to excel in his studies and maybe realise the dream that you couldn't realise. Also don't think that bodybuilding and sports in general are for inferior people. You must aim for the complete development of your child, not just school results. For your information, many top universities base their recruitment on participation in sports/ exercise activities. For instance, at the exercise science research unit at the University of Cape Town where I do my studies, every student and staff member is seriously into some form of sport (running, cycling, cricket and rugby being very popular).  

Ferris LT, Williams JS and Shen CL. The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Med Sci Sports Exerc 39: 728-734, 2007.

Matthews VB, Astrom MB, Chan MH, Bruce CR, Krabbe KS, Prelovsek O, Akerstrom T, Yfanti C, Broholm C, Mortensen OH, Penkowa M, Hojman P, Zankari A, Watt MJ, Bruunsgaard H, Pedersen BK and Febbraio MA. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is produced by skeletal muscle cells in response to contraction and enhances fat oxidation via activation of AMP-activated protein kinase. Diabetologia 52: 1409-1418, 2009.

Pedersen BK, Pedersen M, Krabbe KS, Bruunsgaard H, Matthews VB and Febbraio MA. Role of exercise-induced brain-derived neurotrophic factor production in the regulation of energy homeostasis in mammals. Exp Physiol 94: 1153-1160, 2009.

Yarrow JF, White LJ, McCoy SC and Borst SE. Training augments resistance exercise induced elevation of circulating brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Neurosci Lett 479: 161-165, 2010.

My Bio: I am a Mauritian originally from Roche Bois, Port Louis and now based in Cape Town, South Africa where I am busy with my postgraduate studies in molecular biology of exercise. My research, supervised by Prof. Edward Ojuka, looks at the influence of nutrition and exercise in gene expression in muscle, research which is relevant and applicable to exercising individuals, sportspersons and diabetic individuals. The knowledge that I share with you stems from my 18 years of experience in bodybuilding and 8 years (and counting) of university education in the field. I have also published work in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism (2013), International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2013) and co-authored two book chapters on exercise and diabetes. I also presented my research work at the 2012 International Sports and Exercise Nutrition Conference (UK). I am grateful to each and everyone at the UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine. "Knowledge without sharing is worth nothing"
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  1. exercise is actually any kind of bodily
    task which improves or maybe preserves beauty
    health and fitness and also entire health and wellness.It truly is performed with
    regard to a variety of motives including fortifying muscle tissue and the honing
    running knowledge, weight loss or even preservation, along with for the purpose
    of pleasure. Medical services usually call exercise .

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