Immediately after the strenuous activity, the cyclists had significantly higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is known to promote the health of nerve cells. The men who had sat quietly showed no comparable change in BDNF levels.It makes sense that a release of proteins that produce healthy nerve cells would make the brain, that big ol' bundle of nerves, work better.
For some time, scientists have believed that BDNF helps explain why mental functioning appears to improve with exercise. However, they haven’t fully understood which parts of the brain are affected or how those effects influence thinking. The Irish study suggests that the increases in BDNF prompted by exercise may play a particular role in improving memory and recall.
For the last few years (as I found myself in more sedentary jobs, after years of physically intense jobs while I was in school), I've felt that my memory was getting worse. I've never been good at connecting names and faces, and the kind of memorization we were expected to do in school never interested me.
But I've definitely felt that my memory for conversations, for instructions, and for all those "what did I come into this room for?" moments was getting worse. I won't pretend to believe that my memory has improved at all just because I've been exercising more in the last 6 months. But it would be nice to believe it.