Running helps your brain grow. It’s true, but don’t worry, I’m not talking crazy bulging forehead alien skull growth – just happy healthy brain growth. Running stimulates the creation of new nerve cells and blood vessels within the brain. Which is great, because typically your brain will naturally shrink with age. Also, studies have shown that running may help increase the volume of the midbrain (which controls vision and hearing) and the hippocampus (which is linked to memory and learning).
Running helps your brain age better. We are all worried about gray hair and wrinkles, but how many of you give a second thought to your brain showing signs of age. In addition to preventing or reversing age-related shrinkage, running affects brain chemicals in a way that sets runners up to have healthier-than-average brains later in life. Researchers proves that athletes’ brains showed greater metabolic efficiency and neural plasticity.
Running boosts your ability to learn and recall information. Moderately fit people do better on memory tests than those who were less fit (or not fit at all). There is also a great deal of research that links running to a better ability to focus, to juggle multiple tasks, and to make distinctions. Most runners will tell you that they can focus on tasks way better after they have logged some miles. Personally, I have a hard time focusing if I haven’t had my morning sweat session.
Running conditions your brain to store more fuel. Most of you already know that training conditions your muscles to store more fuel, but you might not realize that your brain adapts in the same way. Researchers believe that larger glycogen stores in the brain may be one of the reasons running boosts cognitive function.
Running keeps your brain full of feel-good chemicals. Exercise promotes the release of the feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Additionally, like many antidepressant medications, running helps your brain hold on to mood-boosting neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. It does matter where you run. Studies show that best results are achieved when running out in the open, in nature – like in a park, on a trail, or on the beach. Quiet, serene spaces are better than crowded city street, and far better than the treadmill at the gym. Several studies found people in parks experienced brain activity similar to that seen during meditation, while people on streets experienced frustration.