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November 16, 2013

On the Run: Studies show running exercises your brain, too

The benefits of running go far beyond physical fitness. Sure, if you stick to a regular running regimen, you’ll improve your cardiovascular function, you might lose some weight and you’ll feel better in general.

But recent research shows that running may actually give your brain a workout as well.

Several studies released earlier this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego touted the benefits of running and exercise for the brain. The studies found that physical exercise can ease depression, slow down age-related memory loss and prevent Parkinson-like symptoms, according to NPR’s Shots health blog.

In one of the studies, researchers studied rats and found that those that ran on a treadmill for at least four months performed better in memory tests as they grew older. The rat runners also had more blood vessels and white matter in their brains than the non-running rats.

The researchers also found that exercise helped rats reverse bradykinesia, a slowing of movement that affects more than half of people who live to be 85 or older. Elderly rats that used a treadmill for 12 consecutive days had improved mobility, according to a Louisiana State University study. This could be because the exercise raises levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that aids movement.

And a University of Newcastle study of a dozen people aged 15-to-25 in Australia found that exercise relieves depression. The participants had been diagnosed with depression but after 12 weeks of exercise, 10 of the people were no longer categorized as depressed.

As has been noted previously in this space, there are plenty of studies that can be used to highlight the benefits and harm caused by running. However, as a frequent runner, I can attest to the mental benefits of running. Whether they can be legitimately measured, I’ll leave up to the scientists. But even when I don’t feel particularly well physically, going for a run is a great way to clear my mind and generally just blow off steam.

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