It is well-known that regular running offers enormous benefit to the body, but did you know that running can also significantly improve the processes of the brain, increasing its function, connectivity and its ability to handle emotions and relax? Here’s how;
1. Running boosts brain function
The demands of regular running, such as complex navigational skills, planning, monitoring and environmental response skills, each impact how the brain is wired, according to one study. Researchers found that the combination of mental work required by runners improves connectivity in the neural regions involved with memory and self-control. In addition to this, running also increases the brains ability to recall information and stay focused.
Running also stimulates the brain and encourages the production of new nerve cells and blood vessels. Improving areas of the brain associated with vision, hearing, memory and learning. Studies show that sprints and regular interval training have impacts on mental control and cognitive flexibility. The British Psychological Society notes that intense sprints saw enhanced executive function in runners, whilst interval training improved runners ability to adapt to changing stimuli in given tasks.
2. Running helps to balance emotions
A 2015 study aimed to test the impact of physical activity and emotions. The test involved taking participants for a short jog, followed by the viewing of a short clip from a sad film. The results showed that post-run, participants who were more vulnerable to emotional stressors were less emotionally impacted by the sad stimulus than they would be without exercising beforehand. The researchers noted that the influence of running assisted these participants in regulating their emotions and coping with both short and long term effects of the stimulus.
Running is also known to assist in regulating depression and improving overall mental health. An article in Body Health Magazine highlights that running distance allows the body to release negative emotions building in the brain. The sense of happiness and euphoria people often feel after going for a run is the result of endorphin’s released during the run, which is why running is often used in hospitals as a therapy tool.
3. Running clears the mind
Many runners say they experience a sense of calmness and relaxation during their runs. One study showed that whilst running, the brain saw a reduction in activity in the front of the brain. This can also help to alleviate stress. An article in the Independent notes that responding to stress with a short jog improves the body’s ability to release toxins related to stress by increasing blood-flow to the brain.
Another study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology highlights that running, particularly in natural environments, produces a meditation-like effect on the brain. This is likely due to the release of endorphin’s during physical exercise, causing a feel-good sensation.
Tips for running to boost brain power
So, now that we know the benefits that running has on the brain, how can we begin boosting brain power? A study in 2016 notes that the best way to increase brain function is through “sustained aerobic exercise”. This can be done through regular weekly jogs or through regular interval training.
The further you run, the more stimulated the brain is. Running longer distances in different places encourages the brain to adapt to its changing environment.
Follow a regular training program, such as high intensity interval training to keep the brain working everyday.