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The Reason Why We Get Our Best Ideas While On The Run

There are many reasons—scientific and otherwise—behind running's magical ability to clear your mind.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Trying to make a difficult decision? Go for a run.

Ever notice how during or immediately following a run you can solve a problem that seemed impossible before you headed out? You might have even started running in order to stop thinking about something and unexpectedly found a solution along the way. Perhaps you found forgiveness or a heightened awareness that wasn’t there when you started. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, there is a scientific reason (and some not-so-scientific ones) for why this “magic” happens while running.

Related: All the Thoughts Swirling in My Head When I Run

The Scientific Reason

Blood pressure and blood flow increase during exercise, both of which send more energy and oxygen to our muscles and organs. This process allows your brain to function at a higher level as it receives more energy and oxygen in turn.

According to an article by The Scientific American

“…working up a sweat enhances our mental capacity [because the] hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for learning and memory, is highly active during exercise. When the neurons in this structure rev up, research shows that our cognitive function improves. For instance, studies in mice have revealed that running enhances spatial learning. Other recent work indicates that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age, and consequently boost memory in older adults. Yet another study found that students who exercise perform better on tests than their less athletic peers.”

The Not-So-Scientific Reasons

Running outside or even on a treadmill allows you to focus on several things you might not be able to concentrate on while sitting at a desk or being otherwise occupied by children, screens or other forms of social interaction. While running, you typically focus on:

  • Your breath. Even if you’re listening to music or a podcast, you are more aware of your breathing and when it’s flowing smoothly or increasing rapidly.
  • Your surroundings. If you’re outside, you need to focus on where you’re going, who may be around you, cars, bikes and all the sounds that go with each of these.
  • Your feet. The echo of your footfalls can tell you a lot about your form, where you’re running and how fast or slow you will arrive at your destination.

Get The Best Brain Boost From Your Run

Obviously there are things you can do to get the most out of your run. If you’re looking to solve a problem, mull over a personal issue or just clear your head, follow these tips:

  • Leave the music at home.
  • Leave your watch with it.
  • Go solo.
  • Know your route so you don’t have to think about where you’re going.
  • Focus on your problem or issue…or think about something else entirely.

Whatever your reason is for running, you may return with a head full of possibilities, ideas and solutions.


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