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Can High-Intensity Exercise Improve Mood & Cognition in Menopausal Women?

Updated: Feb 5

Ongoing research has identified a correlation between estrogen and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a vital protein in neuronal growth, development, and maintenance. BDNF plays a pivotal role in cognitive functions such as learning, memory, and mood regulation. The decline in BDNF levels during menopause has been suggested as a potential factor contributing to cognitive and mood issues in menopausal women.

In a promising development for menopausal women, exercise has been identified as having neuroprotective effects and is linked to an increase in BDNF levels. A 2023 study in active, healthy individuals further expanded on these findings. Both light and intense exercise were found to elevate BDNF levels, with high-intensity exercise showing a 4-5 times greater impact. Participants were asked to cycle on a stationary bike for 90 minutes at 25% effort, followed by intervals of 40 sec at 100% effort then 20 sec at 25% effort for 6 minutes. BDNF levels increased significantly after 90 minutes of light exercise (but not after 30 minutes) and even more so after the sprint intervals (SIT). Whether participants were fed or fasted did not influence the results.

The study's authors suggest that periodic bouts of intense exercise, specifically SIT, could be a viable approach to enhance BDNF production, which could potentially slow age-related cognitive decline in humans. Although more research is needed, the study underscores the benefits of menopausal women incorporating HIIT/SIT workouts into their routines. Beyond improving insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial strength, fat burning, and growth hormone release, SIT workouts may contribute to increased BDNF levels. This neuroprotective effect could help mitigate cognitive losses and mood disruptions experienced by some women during menopause. For those interested in incorporating SIT workouts into their routine, more information is available here.

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