Want To Boost Your Brain Health? Get Your Running Shoes On
We all know that running improves aerobic fitness and is a great way to help improve cardiovascular health. Plus, it burns calories and can build strength. But did you know that running can also boost your brain health, improve memory and even counteract brain shrinkage as you age?
By the time you reach adulthood your brain has stopped growing. However, parts of the brain can produce brain cells and more neurons throughout life. Also the brain shrinks with advancing years especially when diseases like dementia kick in.
And this is where running can help.
A study by the BYU has found that restricting movement in the hind legs of mice decreased the number of neural stem cells by 7%
Our legs contain the body’s biggest muscles. The signals they send to the brain are essential for neurological health. Researchers believe this may explain why some patients with conditions such as multiple sclerosis or motor-neuron disease can rapidly decline once movement is restricted. They suggest that from an evolutionary point of view this makes sense. A threat would alleviate the fight or flight stress response activating the hormones cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies along with the other metabolic processes producing amino acids and enzymes.
Running also mitigates the negative impacts chronic stress has on the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Senior author Jeff Edwards, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU explains that inside the hippocampus, memory formation and recall occur optimally when the synapses or connections between neurons are strengthened over time. That process of synaptic strengthening is called long-term potentiation (LTP). Chronic or prolonged stress weakens the synapses. This decreases LTP and ultimately impacts memory. Edwards’ study found that when exercise co-occurs with stress, LTP levels are not decreased, but remain normal.
The findings reveal that exercise is a viable method to protect learning and memory mechanisms from the negative cognitive impacts of chronic stress on the brain.
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” Edwards said. “Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”
Other studies confirm the benefits of running on the brain
Neuroscientist Ben Matrynoga explained to The Independent, “our ancestors would have used this surge of energy to flee a predictor or face off against a competitor for food or land. Today that cocktail of chemicals often has nowhere to go, potentially exacerbating mental health problems long term unless you do something to help dissipate it.”
“This could be especially important in later life. Running may be a far better method of brain training than a daily Sudoku.”
Even a 30-minute run can lift symptoms of depression and improve mood
Another study published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine concluded that spending 30 minutes on a treadmill would be enough to lift the mood of someone suffering from major depressive disorder. Even participants who moved at a walking pace would receive a mood-lifting benefit.
You are built to run
Experts suggest human bodies are shaped the way they are because we evolved to be extremely effective endurance runners. The shapes of our hips and feet, the length of our legs, our shock-absorbing spinal discs, and our ability to sweat make it possible for us to run mile after mile.
Ask any runner and they will tell you that when they’re running, they are completely engaged with what’s happening with their heart and lungs. They no choice but to be in that moment. Thinking about how the muscles are working and concentrating on where each foot will tread.
Some call this focus. A mindfulness meditation. The ability to be present and focused especially on the breath. So, despite the physical effort it takes to run, once in the flow, you will find running actually very relaxing. And this effect according to science, sparks changes to the brain that are very healthy.
Running regularly is one of the best medicines you can take to keep your brain healthy, counteract brain decline and shrinkage.
So if you want to live a longer, better life, get off that chair and get your running shoes on.