Going for a run is just as beneficial to your brain as to your waistline, study finds

A recent study published in Scientific Reviews has revealed that running promotes brain health. The animal study, conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.K., concluded that running once a day may provide beneficial effects on cognitive health. The research team pooled data from two sets of mice models as part of the study. One group was tagged as the active set, while the other was pegged as the sedentary controls. The experts analyzed the brain tissues of both the sedentary group and the active group that spent a week with a running wheel.

The results showed that running for about one week spurred positive effects on brain health. According to the research team, mice that spent more time running exhibited more new neurons or brain connections than those that did not. The experts noted that running helped sharpen reaction time and improved memory in the animal models.

Study lead author Dr. Henriette van Praag has noted that the findings effectively demonstrate how being active may benefit brain health.

Another animal study shows similar results

Previous studies have also demonstrated the benefits of running on brain health.

For instance, an animal study published early last year has shown that aerobic exercises such as running may help increase neuron reserves in the hippocampus, the brain responsible for learning. The research team examined three groups of animal models to carry out the study. One group underwent sustained running, while the other two groups were subjected to either high-intensity training or resistance training. The research team noted that the highest number of new hippocampal neurons were observed in animal models that ran long distances.

“Aerobic exercise, such as running, has positive effects on brain structure and function, for example, the generation of neurons in the hippocampus…The results indicate that the highest number of new hippocampal neurons was observed in rats that ran long distances and that also had a genetic predisposition to benefit from aerobic exercise…The result is important because…new hippocampal neurons…are needed among other things for learning temporally and spatially complex tasks. It is possible that by promoting neurogenesis via sustained aerobic exercise, the neuron reserve of the hippocampus can be increased and thus also the preconditions for learning improved also in humans,” lead researcher Professor Heikki Kainulainen told The Telegraph online.

Human study also shows consistent findings

A human study carried out by University of Arizona researchers has also shown the positive correlation between running and brain health. As part of the study, the research team compared brain scans of young adults who engaged in cross country running against their less active counterparts. The brain scans revealed that active runners exhibited greater functional connectivity in certain brain regions such as the frontal cortex compared to non-runners. Frontal cortex plays a central role in cognitive functions including planning, decision-making and switching between tasks, the scientists have stated.

“These activities that people consider repetitive actually involve many complex cognitive functions — like planning and decision-making — that may have effects on the brain. One of the key questions that these results raise is whether what we’re seeing in young adults — in terms of the connectivity differences — imparts some benefit later in life. The areas of the brain where we saw more connectivity in runners are also the areas that are impacted as we age, so it really raises the question of whether being active as a young adult could be potentially beneficial and perhaps afford some resilience against the effects of aging and disease,” a university release read.

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