Running has plenty to offer: it boosts your metabolism, sheds mad calories, builds stamina, and helps you live a healthier and longer life.
But that’s not the whole story.
Plenty of recent research also suggests that improving your brain health and increasing your mental power are yet more reasons to lace up your shoes and grind out some serious miles.
Exercise, especially running, has been found to alter the structure and function of the brain, resulting in long-term increases in both cerebral power and longevity. I’d go as far as to claim that running—and exercise in general—is the most scientifically proven cognitive enhancer.
In today’s post, I’ll take a look at some of the research conducted on the subject.
Are you excited?
Here we go…
1. Better Memory Function
For starters, running may help guard you against Alzheimer and other brain-related troubles, according to a study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
Research that looked at roughly 153,000 runners and walkers for over a decade concluded that runners who logged in more than 15 miles each week were 40 percent less likely to die from Alzheimer’s.
In another study reported in Perceptual and Motor Skills, subjects improved their performance on standard memory tests by up to 20 percent following a short treadmill session, compared to pre-training tests. The subjects’ ability to solve complex problems also increased by 20 percent.
2. Stress Reduction
Stress has severe adverse effects on your emotional state, behavior, and body. Negative consequences include intense headaches, chest pain, muscle tension, anger issues, weight gain, sleep problems, etc.
Here’s the good news. Thanks to the endorphins release, running is a popular stress buster, and one of the reasons so many people hit the pavement. And it’s not just anecdotes. Research conducted at the Technische Universität München (TUM), and published in the Journal of Neuroscience has put the endorphin theory to closer scrutiny.
In the research, ten subjects’ brains were scanned both before and after a two-hour long distance run using a Positron Emission Tomography (PET)—and it was revealed that their prefrontal and limbic regions secreted high amounts of endorphins.
Why this matters, you might be wondering?
Endorphins, in case you never heard about them, are one of the so-called happiness hormones that are secreted by the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland. These are linked to elevated moods, and better alertness and cognitive functioning. The more endorphins released by the brain, the more significant the effect.
And apparently, running stimulates the release of these neurochemicals into the brain. A good thing if you ask me.
3. Mood Elevation
Research reported in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise revealed that runners have high levels of tryptophan, a brain biochemical that helps move messages throughout the nervous system and is in charge of many functions, including the production of mood-elevating neurotransmitters known as serotonin.
People with low serotonin levels typically suffer from insomnia, anxiety, depression, and overheating issues. Classic antidepressant medication work by keeping the levels of these neurotransmitters higher and longer in the system.
Wanna know the best part? Unlike other chemical shortcuts to happiness—medication, running does not come with a comedown.
4. Smarter Connections
Research has revealed that exercise enhances your executive functions—or your higher level thinks skills. These include (but not limited to) mental focus, task switching, inhibitory control, etc.
As you can already tell, these skills are of the utmost importance of leading a successful life. They’re key to problem-solving, organizing, planning, and regulating behavior.
Running also makes you smarter as it triggers the growth of new nerve cells, neurogenesis—and blood vessels, angiogenesis. Put together, these help increase brain tissue volume, according to research conducted at the University of Maryland.
In the study, the researchers found an increase in the volume of the hippocampus—the brain region associated with learning and memory—in those who exercised regularly when compared to sedentary peers.
This may not seem as much until you realize, once again, that brain size isn’t known for increasing at any point in adulthood. We start to lose brain tissue as early as our late 20’s.
5. Faster Thinking
Do you want to be faster at solving problems and remembering things? Exercise might be what you need.
According to research published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, both low-intensity aerobic running, and high-intensity sprinting can enhance your capacity to learn and recall new information and vocabulary.
This is possible thanks to the increased levels of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and the neurotransmitter catecholamine, both heavily involved in learning and brain cognitive functions, research shows.
Research has also revealed that older adults with plenty of aerobic exercise experience have better white matter integrity than their non-active peers.
6. Improved Sleep
Sleep issues affect millions of adults. Surveys reveal that roughly 50 percent of people aged 50 and older suffer from symptoms of sleep deprivation and other serious sleep disorders.
And yes, you guessed that right. Running can also help improve your sleep quality. It might even help you overcome common sleep problems.
Research backs these claims up. A study out of the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that those who followed a regular morning running routine showed improvement in objective sleep.
A further study reported in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity revealed that subjects reported sleeping better and felt more energized during the day when getting at least 160 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise during the week.
Research has also found that regular exercise, not just running, help improve daytime alertness, regulate circadian rhythms, and faster onset of deeper sleep.
There you have it. The above covers some of the most well-known and well-documented effects that running has on your brain. See, hitting the pavement can really turn you into a more productive and smarter person. And that’s a good thing if you ask me.
The rest is really up to you.
Please feel free to leave your comments and ideas in the section below.
Thank you for dropping by.