According to a new study, running doesn’t only work wonders for the body, but also remarkably enhances cognitive prowess.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology, London, researchers studying the impact of aerobic exercise on human cognitive function have associated long lasting brain benefits for individuals who incorporate the habit of running into their everyday lives. Running as an exercise activates and even enhances neuron reserves in the human brain which are central to the brain’s capacity to learn, the study confirms. More intriguingly, it reveals that running can multiply these reserves much more expeditiously than any kind of high-intensity resistance training.
Participating researcher Professor Heikki Kainulainen has said that running has positively long-lasting effects on brain structure and function, namely the generation of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain structure important in learning.
“Aerobic exercise, such as running, has positive effects on brain structure and function. It may be possible to increase the neuron reserve of the hippocampus and thus improve preconditions for learning by promoting neurogenesis via sustained aerobic exercise such as running.”
The results emerged after researchers noted the sustained running pattern in rats who subsequently also underwent resistance training. The findings indicated 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.
Universally, the far-reaching life-enhancing merits of aerobic exercise such as running can scarcely be contested. For instance, a recent study had found that habitual runners were 30 percent less likely to die over the next 15 years compared to non-runners. It also revealed that nearly 45 percent of the former were less likely to experience a fatal event namely a heart attack or stroke.
However, some of the studies have revealed that even a relatively modest amount of exercise is quite rewarding for health. The biggest reduction in mortality has, in fact, been observed in individuals committed to some form of physical activity as opposed to those with no exercise at all. For example, individuals who run up to six miles a week cut their risk of dying from cardiovascular-related causes by almost 60 percent compared with non-runners.
Numerous other studies have concluded that running just five minutes a day can actually reduce the risk of mortality and could enhance an individual’s life-span by as much as three years.
According to Professor Timothy Church, a leading expert at the Pennington Institute, most people can manage five minutes a day of running, despite time constraints, but the benefits in terms of mortality can be extraordinary.
“There’s not necessarily something magical about running, per se. Instead, it’s likely that exercise intensity is the key to improving longevity. Running just happens to be the most convenient way for most people to exercise intensely.”
Running helps in the genesis of new nerve cells and blood vessels within the brain. In addition to stimulating the hippocampus, which is linked to memory and learning, running is known to enhance the growth of the mid-brain associated with vision and hearing. Other studies have shown that in addition to preventing or actually reversing age-related deterioration, running enables runners to benefit from healthier-than-average cognitive capability during the advancing years of life.
There is substantial scientific evidence to conclude that running enhances the overall ability to focus and concentrate on complex tasks as well as the ability to differentiate objects. Researchers believe that the extensive amount of glycogen in the brain may be one of the principal reasons running improves cognitive function.
According to Prof Kainulainen, findings of the study are uniquely relevant considering the production of neurons as a consequence of neurogenesis is absolutely critical for learning temporally and spatially complex tasks.
[Image via Shutterstock]