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November 16, 2023

Exercise is Fertilizer for the Brain | Dr. David Merrill

by Anthony Effinger

The Think Neuro podcast from Pacific Neuroscience Institute takes you into the clinic, operating room and laboratory with doctors and surgeons who are tackling the most challenging brain diseases and disorders. Host: Anthony Effinger

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Episode 49: Show Notes

For decades, people thought physical exercise benefited only the body. But every year we learn how incorrect that was, and Dr. David Merrill, director of PNI’s brain health center, is one of the people pushing our knowledge forward. It turns out that exercise builds the brain by prompting the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. “Trophic” compounds cause things to grow, and BDNF helps create new connections among neurons, which is how we learn.

In short, BDNF is fertilizer for the brain, Dr. Merrill says. In a perfect world, we would be able to take BDNF in a pill, like a vitamin. But it’s a big, clunky molecule that doesn’t pass easily from blood to brain. Exercise gets the job done, boosting BDNF and keeping our brains nimble. That fact makes exercise crucial as we age. Pumping iron, and therefore pumping up BDNF, promotes brain plasticity: the ability to change, grow and adapt to the insults that come with growing older.

Listen to this episode to hear how you can boost BDNF through exercise and stay sharp into your golden years.

About Dr. David Merrill

David merrill

David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, is an adult and geriatric psychiatrist with double-board certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He is director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute.

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About the Author

Anthony Effinger

Anthony Effinger

Think Neuro's host is Anthony Effinger, an award-winning journalist who is fascinated with neuroscience and the workings of the brain. Anthony spent 24 years at Bloomberg News, where he covered all aspects of finance, with forays into science and health. In 2006, the Association of Health Care Journalists awarded him first prize for Playing the Odds, an in-depth piece on the changing strategies used to treat prostate cancer. These days, he is a staff writer at Willamette Week, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Last updated: January 18th, 2024