It turns out that exercise does a lot more than get the blood pumping: in about 60 percent of the population, it may be responsible for the expression of a gene that floods your cells with “brain derived neurotrophic factor” — or BDNF – a protein that is thought to help with mental acuity, learning and memory.
In a study based at Dartmouth College, lead researcher Michael Hopkins and his team tested four different exercise schedules on a group of sedentary, though healthy young men. They gave the men a set of memory tests and mental health surveys to determine their psychological states. Some participants exercised for four weeks and were tested on the final day. Another group exercised for four weeks, but did not exercise on test day. A third group had just one day of exercise, followed by the test. A last group was sedentary throughout.
Hopkins and his team found that the group that exercised daily — and on test day — had the benefit of a boost in BDNF. The other groups did not.