Can running change your brain wiring? Or make your brain sharper? Think faster? Happier? Prevent early memory decline? Help you navigate negative emotions? or even increase mindfulness?
Science says the benefits of running are not just restricted to knee strength, strong heart health, burning calories, winning marathons or physical fitness.
Neuroscientists claim that running changes our brain and affects how we think and what we feel. Science confirms that running every day for 30 minutes is enough to reap amazing brain benefits.
There are surprising ways of running stimulates your brain. And these benefits of running apply to both casual runners and dedicated marathoners.
I don’t know if these are the reasons why Forrest Gump ran for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours. Well, you don’t need to run like an insane person!
Read on to know how running changes your brain wiring and it will surely motivate you to lace up, head the outdoors and pound the pavements.
Here are 14 surprising brain benefits of running:
1. Running helps you better process the information
In 2018, researchers at Western Michigan University conducted experiments to check out if working leg muscles directly impact the mental state. The results showed that running for 30 minutes improved the “cortical flicker frequency” threshold that is linked with the ability to better process information.
Earlier David Raichlen conducted a brain imaging study to compare the brain of runners and nonrunners. The runner’s brain showed an increase in coordinated activity in regions, mainly at the front of the brain, known to be involved in executive functions and working memory.
2. Running lessens the effect of default mode network (DMN)
David Raichlen’s study also showed that running damps down the DMN region of the brain. It is a series of linked brain regions that are activated whenever we idle or are distracted.
DMN is the culprit that we imagine all the nonsense stuff or think of the past or worse when we have nothing to do. This is responsible for clinical depression according to neuroscientist Ben Martynoga.
As per brain imaging studies, running suppresses the DMN region and cuts off destructive thinking. The message is clear, the more you run, the more you are cognitively engaged.
3. Running spikes your Self-Esteem and Confidence
Professional runners claim that running builds their self-esteem and confidence. With each footstrike, you become stronger and confident to clear obstacles. Running and jogging trigger the feeling of empowerment, improves the perception of fitness, body image which are linked to improved self-esteem. If you are struggling with low self-esteem, why not reap such benefits of running?
One run can change your day. Many runs can change your life.
4. Running boosts your executive functions
Executive functions include the ability to marshall attention, switch between tasks and solve problems. Intense sprints can boost executive function according to a study published in Preventive Medicine Reports.
Simon Cooper and other researchers asked young volunteers of average age 12 to complete 10-second sprints for 10 minutes. The participants also completed the Stroop Test, the measure of executive function before and after the sprints. The executive function seemed to be enhanced immediately and 45 minutes post sprints-based exercise. Similar studies are been carried out across the world to check out the impact of running on different cognitive functions.
5. Running produces new neurons
Contrary to popular belief, the generation of new neurons in our body doesn’t stop with aging. The human brain can create new neurons throughout our entire life.
A vigorous aerobic exercise is the only activity that helps in the formation of new brain cells as said by Karen Postal, president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology. You can choose to sweat it out on the treadmill or out in the open. 30-40 minutes of running is enough to stay mentally fit for years to come.
Watch out this video to know how running can turn on your brain:
6. Running helps you deal with negative emotions
Millennials are so anxious and unhappy, they seek psychotherapy more often than members of earlier generations. They have to deal with lots of negative emotions, not just restricted to job, money, or marriage. Running can hasten emotional recovery and boost emotional flexibility.
Emily Bernstein who is a runner and Richard McNally examined if aerobic workouts help in reducing the negative emotions. They asked their participants to run or jog for 30 minutes and then were shown a sad movie scene from the movie The Champ. Upon comparing the emotional responses, the joggers were found to recover quickly from the sad emotional experience than those who did not run.
7. Running can shut out distractions
Running is a powerful tool to help you focus and gain control over your attention according to Martynoga. It means if you are seriously working on a very important presentation, you can very well block out distractions.
After comparing the results of experiments involving runners and nonrunners, who participated in tasks that require them to control their attention, researchers found a very clear effect. Both old and young participants in the running group could tune into what they have to do despite background noises.
“Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going.” — Unknown
8. Running Can dissipate Stress
Longer-lasting stress relief is another most surprising benefits of running or jogging. This aerobic exercise increases resilience and enables people to better handle the challenges of life.
According to research published in Clinical Psychology Review, aerobic exercise increases the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine and causes the brain to generate new neurons. These neurotransmitters are also called happy hormones as they induce happiness and positive feelings.
The reason relates to the study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, which highlighted that running lower the level of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in our body.
Running leaves you clear-headed, because of an increase in overall blood flow and supply of fresh energy and oxygen to our minds. This is why we feel good and think better after the workout. Why not worry less and run more if that makes your brain more resistant to stress?
“Long distance running is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Rich Davis
9. Running can lift symptoms of depression
Depression is the worst enemy of the present-day youth. World Health Organisation declared depression is the third leading cause of disability and disease worldwide.
One study published in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine revealed that even a 30-minute run can lift the mood of someone suffering from major depressive disorders. People who go at a walking pace can enjoy the same benefits, the researchers confirmed. A simple mechanism here is running provides flow states, in which the parts of your brain associated with identity and fear are tamped down.
When patients were subjected to a running program. They reported less tension, fatigue, depression and less confusion. The participants reported that they could focus better and see something besides their depressed state of addiction.
But that doesn’t mean running can be prescribed as an antidepressant. Because a 2013 study highlighted that exercise was moderately more effective than no therapy but not more effective than antidepressants.
If not as an antidepressant, running, that can wipe stress can surely prevent depression in healthy individuals.
10. Running helps you sleep better
Bad habits like alcohol abuse and various medical illnesses like diabetes, heart ailments or severe stress can cause sleep deprivation. Since running kills stress hormones and improves mood by lifting the symptoms of anxiety and depression, it helps you sleep better.
A study of 51 young people (average age 18) compared the sleep patterns and psychological functioning of runners and nonrunners. Those people who participated in running for 30 minutes a day, for 5 days a week, for three days were found to sleep better with improved ability to focus and psychological well being. Such improvement was missing in participants who did not follow a regular running regimen. However, these nonrunners were not completely sedentary and did get some exercise.
The research confirms that people of any age can reap these benefits if they cultivate a daily habit of running.
11. Running Can be rewarding
For those who think running is pain, it’s time to get rid of this misconception. Experienced runners claim that they feel better and find it rewarding.
Scientific evidence says that such feeling comes from the production of two different types of brain molecules endocannabinoids and endorphins. These chemicals activate the brain rewarding pathways after running like activities. The impact of these chemicals on the brain is similar to that of taking cannabis or opiates.
Images of brain scans indicated that a long-distance run increased opioid binding throughout several areas of the brain, which resulted in participants feeling a subjective sense of euphoria.
Hence, people can kill pain and feel better after a long run. But don’t confuse that with a wild euphoric drug-like high.
Besides relieving stress and improving mood, running can dull the symptoms of a bad mood and anxiety disorders.
12. Running offers benefits similar to mindfulness and meditation
Running is a sort of moving mindfulness meditation, says Martynoga. Practicing mindfulness and meditation helps you live in the present. And running helps you get the same state of mind. You can focus on your breath and the senses of your body. As well as achieve mental clarity, self-awareness, and peace of mind just like it happens after meditation.
For those who find practicing mindfulness a tough job, running is the easiest option. Don’t you think so? Besides improving your fitness level, you can become more present during your run.
Now before you hit the pavement to reap the benefits of body and mind, remember that running for some benefits is a negative approach according to psychotherapist Michelle Shanley, working with running-gear retailer SportsShoes.com.
The expert recommends running with a positive attitude of “I want to give my mind a rest, connect with my body, improve my well-being and offer myself time to appreciate surroundings”. That mindset helps you see running as a positive opportunity and not as an obstacle.
13. Running keeps your brain sharp at any age
This is one of my favorite benefits of running! With aging comes poor memory and a decline in cognitive functions. But running can keep your brain young and healthy at any age. It can also ward off age-associated risks like dementia.
A review of research studied the effect of running, jogging or brisk walking on cognitive function in children, young and older adults. The results showed an increased ability to focus and enhanced memory function in children. Young and older adults showed a similar boost in memory along with improvement in task-switching ability.
Running benefits working memory at a macro-neural level.
These results align with the observations from Functional MRI Study in female college students. Fifteen young females participated in the working memory task after a session of acute aerobic exercise. Scans after magnetic resonance imaging showed improvement in the control process as evident from their cortex and the left frontal hemisphere of the brain.
14. Running Boosts Creativity
Another most surprising benefits of running are improvement in creativity. Curious brain scientists after a hell lot of investigation found that our unconscious brain is responsible for creativity and problem-solving abilities.
During running, the unconscious brain processes that go on in the background put you in a creative state of mind. Because, while running you are mindful, less stressed out and in a good mood due to the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins. Like a meditative state of mind, you do not think of different things necessary when running.
Altogether it frees your subconscious mind. Hence, running is important to get the flowing of creative juices, according to Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration.
Run daily and you’ll see for yourself the flowing of good ideas.
These are amazing brain benefits of running. Such a cost-effective way to keep your brain sharp, healthy and active for years to come. Isn’t it?
Then what are you waiting for? Get your sneakers, go out there and just run.