Why do you run? I’m sure you can come up with plenty of reasons: To lose weight, get in shape, build endurance, enhance your health, feel better, or accomplish a goal.
But did you know it can actually make you smarter?
Numerous studies have shown the link between brains and brawn, adding more reasons running makes you awesome at pretty much everything. Here’s a rundown of how your run habit can boost your brain:
It enhances brain connectivity.
A recent study reveals that long-distance runners have significantly greater functional connectivity. This means that the brain regions are working together more effectively and results in better executive function including planning, awareness, multitasking, learning, and memory tasks. These findings are similar to benefits associated with more complex fine motor activities such as playing an instrument.
This is quite remarkable given how simple running is. The seemingly low-skill, repetitive exercise can benefit your brain as much as more “thinking” tasks.
It improves your mood.
Research continues to prove the mental benefits of exercise on top of physical fitness. “Its effects rival antidepressants in head-to-head studies,” says Dr. Michael Otto, PhD, of Boston University.
You probably know that all-over feeling of well-being after a run and maybe even experienced the great “runner’s high.” Beyond the temporary feel-goods, we now know that running can help treat anxiety and depression.
Quite simply, when you’re in a better mood, you can think clearly, respond reasonably and solve problems more easily. Everything just flows better, am I right?
It helps you sleep better.
Regular exercise is a proven way to improve sleep time and quality and maximize natural body rhythms. And sleep affects pretty much everything, from mood to energy levels to immunity to memory.
If you’re actually getting the sleep you need, that brain fog will lift and you’ll be at a higher level of mental functioning overall. Amazing what a well-rested head can do!
It enhances mental clarity and focus.
Speaking of mental function, a good run has a tendency to boost your energy, which in turn helps you think more clearly and positively. This is why many people love to run first thing in the morning–you start the day literally on the right foot with a good mood and set yourself up for clear thinking the rest of the day.
Indeed, science shows that your sweat sessions release key chemicals that improve cognitive performance, memory, and the ability to concentrate. That’s a potent recipe for a focused, productive day!
It boosts academic performance.
This is not all that surprising given the previous point. All of that brain-boosting, fog-clearing activity paves the way for enhanced learning ability and focus on school work, for both children and adults. Exercise directly affects frontal executive function, which is responsible for tasks involving concentration, planning, and organization.
A regular exercise program could be the key to unlocking academic potential and is especially helpful for those with ADHD affecting their studies. Even a quick 20-minute bout of exercise on the day of an exam can boost scores. Now that’s something worth taking notes on!
It helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.
You may have heard that exercise is strongly associated with slowing cognitive decline in older age. Elderly individuals who keep up a regular exercise routine show significantly less gray matter loss and have better memory.
Furthermore, a groundbreaking study published in The Journal of Physiology found that running promotes neurogenesis—the formation of new brain cells. So you’re not born with a set amount—you can actually keep generating new brain cells and running helps you do that. Pretty amazing, right?!
Any way you look at it, running can actually make you smarter—and you don’t even have to think about it!
Just one of many more reasons to keep up your run habit throughout life.
Lindsay Kunkel, known as Trainer LJ, is a certified personal trainer, slightly obsessive smoothie-maker, wife and mom of three boys. She helps women get fit at home with her online programs. A few of her favorite things include going running, getting stuck in yoga poses, and hiding to eat all the chocolate.