Improve brain health and function with exercise and get anabolic at the same time. An increase in Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) has been found to improve brain health and cognitive ability. Research shows the exercise-induced elevation of IGF-1 increases neuron survival and plasticity, improving motor function and leading to greater protein synthesis.
We know that IGF-1 is a key anabolic hormone that is elevated in response to a hypertrophy-type training program and it plays a critical role in providing the anabolic response for the body as a whole. IGF-1 has a close relationship with Growth Hormone and Mechano-Like Growth Factor and is thought to “kick-start” muscle building. Additionally, IGF-1 helps prevent a variety of diseases that are commonly related to aging including osteoporosis, stroke, and it is associated with better cardiovascular health.
A new study performed on rats found that exercise protects the brain and improves motor function by enhancing uptake of IGF-1. Getting more IGF-1 into the brain helps support brain plasticity, which is the brains ability to adapt and reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences. Brain plasticity is essential for learning, cognitive function, and motor function. Additionally, there is evidence that exercise-mediated IGF-1 supports the ischemic brain—a brain that has insufficient blood flow for proper function—by increasing IGF-1 entrance into the brain and, of course, improving brain plasticity.
The study in question tested the effect of 30 minutes of treadmill running on IGF-1 response in rats. Both aerobic and sprint running elevate IGF-1 with the greatest increase coming from hypertrophy-type resistance training and sprint intervals. In this study, treadmill running is the obvious choice for elevating IGF-1 in rats. Training improved IGF-1 entrance into the brain, improved motor function and brain plasticity, and also allowed for longer running duration.
Researchers also tested giving one group of rats an IGF-1 inhibitor, and this group was not able to complete 30 minutes of running. Additionally, this group did not experience the neuroprotective effects or improved function from exercise because IGF-1 was mot elevated.
For the greatest IGF-1 response, a moderate volume of training with a hypertrophy-type program is sufficient (75 to 80 percent of the 1 RM with at least 8 sets of 8 to 12 reps). The good news about IGF-1 is that it can be optimally elevated using a program that is geared toward maximal testosterone response (heavy weight, large volume, longer rest) or growth hormone (moderately heavy weights, short rest, very large volume). Additionally, peak nutrition is essential with magnesium, arginine, ornithine, betaine and phosphatidyl-choline being of greatest importance. Read a complete summary of how to increase IGF-1 with my article, Insulin-Like Growth Factor: Get Anabolic Part 3.
Chang, H., Yang, Y., et al. IGF-1 Signaling for Brain Recovery and Exercise Ability in Brain Ischemic Rats. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. May 2011. Published Ahead of Print.
Yeap, B., Chubb, S., et al. Associations of IGF-1 and IGFBPs-1 and -3 with All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality in Older Men: The Health in Men Study. European Journal of Endocrinology. 2011. 164, 715-723.