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How to increase BDNF levels for better memory

How to increase BDNF levels for better memory

4 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed
  • The science of learning

Are your students learning slower on a Monday morning?

Stress, lack of sleep, problems at home – all reasons that may come to mind to explain why. However, it may be due to low levels of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). Don’t be put off by the somewhat complex name and acronym – although this may sound like a scary scientific term describing something we are unable to change, research shows that we are in control. Increasing our levels of BDNF in a variety of different ways can enhance memory, improve our mood, and help us learn better.

What is BDNF?

BDNF stands for Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor. It is a type of protein that is active in many brain areas – including those that are vital to learning, memory, and higher thinking. It can be described almost as a “brain fertiliser” as it is consistently used in the creation of new brain cells. This is especially important for students as they are constantly in a learning environment. Keeping levels of BDNF high can encourage more efficient learning as the new information can be stored better.

So, why is BDNF important and how can we increase our levels?

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What does BDNF do?

BDNF is important for long-term memory. It is an important biological factor that sharpens our mind. There is a plethora of research that shows how important this protein is in forming and storing memories. This indicates how important it is for students to keep their levels of BDNF stable as they are constantly learning new things. Having an enhanced memory – a positive effect of increasing BDNF – can help them better remember what they have learnt in class and make it easier for them to later recall this information.

BDNF can also influence our mood. It is very common to feel good after a workout – we often feel motivated for the day ahead or have a positive outlook for the following day. Evidence suggests that the protein, BDNF, is released when we exercise and can contribute to feelings of calm and ease. The stimulation that the brain receives from physical activity can improve brain functioning, as well as clearing your head and improving your mood. Encouraging students to find activities they enjoy doing or promoting exercise during schooltime can have long-lasting positive effects that can help students succeed.

This is especially important as a lack of BDNF can lead to impaired learning. Research shows that people learned vocabulary words 20% slower when compared to people that increased BDNF levels right before learning by exercising. When levels of BDNF are high, it becomes easier to acquire new knowledge. This is because it aids the brain in adapting, growing and changing. In general, people to tend to feel happier and be better at retaining memories and newly learned skills.


5 things to increase your BDNF

How to increase BDNF levels

There are many natural ways to help increase levels of BDNF. Explain to your students how using them can help boost their brain power and contribute to their academic success. Encouraging students to take up habits that strengthen their brain can also take lots of effort out of the teaching and learning process. Here are 5 ways to increase levels of BDNF:

1. Exercise

Research shows that men who cycled daily for 3 months nearly quadrupled their levels of BDNF. Slowly include more exercise and physical activity into your daily routine to consistently boost your brainpower and BDNF levels.

2. Eat foods rich in Omega-3

Evidence suggests that eating foods that are high in Omega-3’s can normalise your levels of BDNF. Try to include more fish, eggs and nuts in your diet.

3. Sleep

Reduced levels of BDNF have been shown to correlate with insomnia. Wind down for bed a little earlier and try some sleep hacks to ensure you get enough deep sleep. This will help restore your body and bring up your levels of BDNF.

4. Decrease your sugar intake

Having excess sugar can curb the production of BDNF and can lead to cognitive decline. Research shows that when two groups of people were given a task to complete, those who had a higher sugar intake had a lower score on the task than those with a lower intake.

5. Manage your stress

Evidence shows that chronic stress can decrease levels of BDNF. Having too many tasks on your to-do list can have very negative effects. Prioritise finding the best ways to reduce stress

Final thoughts

Increasing our levels of BDNF, a vital protein for our memory process, learning and mood, has been shown to be within our control. By introducing the techniques mentioned above into your daily routine, students can create positive habits. This will help strengthen their brain and keep it healthy!

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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