Research shows that running is good not only for our musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health, but can have a great impact on our neurological activity and health as well. There is a correlation between exercising ones motor functions and developing the attentional and special awareness process and the finer motor skills which we need for things such as painting, drawing, playing and instrument and others, according to a research which was published recently by the University of Arizona.
Also, studies have found a strong connection between practicing endurance running and other sports and the growth of the grey matter volume and the white matter tracts of the brain. A specific study  performed by Raichlen and published in 2016 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience claims that people who engage in endurance sports have shown a much stronger connectivity between the various parts of the brain which are related to memory, cognition, attention as well as sensory function as compared to people who are in the same demographic but who are non-athletes. Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging was used to study these connections in the brains of athletes and non-athletes between 18 and 25 years of age. The tests showed a much stronger connectivity of the frontal network and frontal cortex which is responsible for memory and executive functions, as well as between the default mode network, the paracentral area, post central area and occipital cortex of endurance athletes. This means enhanced motor control, somatosensory functions and visual associations. Stronger connections were found in athletes who engaged in more regular training and in workouts with larger aerobic capacity.
The conclusion of this study was that enhanced cognitive, memory and attention skills can help people deal with everyday tasks much more efficiently and effectively. Plus, athletes proved to be better able to train their brains to stay more focused as compared to non-athletes who were more likely to let their brains wander. Overall, it was found that engaging in such endurance running and sports can help reduce the risk of serious neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
A team of neuroscientists from Cambridge University claim to have found how regular running is able to boost the growth of grey matter and is actually able to improve mental abilities. They found that a few days of running is linked to the growth of hundreds of thousands of new brain cells which helped improve memory as well as learning and other cognitive related tasks. These new cells were found mainly in the region of the brain responsible for the recollection of memories. This team of scientists has suggested that engaging in regular running can help decrease the memory loss associated with aging and can help slow down the process of mental deterioration as we age.
People who suffer from depression often suffer from limited neurogenesis. This though has been found to improve once they start to run or exercise on a regular basis.
Although there is no one answer to the question how exercise affects the growth of new brain cells directly, it has been linked to the release of hormones and the improvement of the blood flow when a person exercises. Cortisol which is released when a person is engaged in aerobic exercises is known to reduce the stress too.
So, running will help your brain to grow and develop, and thus work better, but it will also protect it from the shrinkage which is associated with getting older. In fact running can help re-build and strengthen the connections between the neurons, and improve the health and functioning of the brain. The best news is – it is never too late to start working on improving your brain health by adding some exercise or regular running into your lifestyle.
When you engage in aerobic exercises, the blood flow and thus the oxygen and nutrition to your brain are enhanced. This is crucial, because the brain is the organ in the human body which requires the most energy in order to function properly. With age this circulation deteriorates, which is why it is strongly recommended that people start adding more physical activity, workouts or running to their daily program once they reach a certain age.
A further benefit has been found for people who run through the day. Natural light is essential for ensuring a proper circadian (wake-sleep) rhythm and for better functioning of the natural internal clock in our bodies. This clock and rhythm is crucial for the functioning of our bodies including: the metabolism, the hormone release and the body temperature.
It is a fact that people who engage in physical exercise and running are more likely to get sufficient sleep hours and are less at risk of suffering from insomnia and other sleep related problems. Sleep is essential for the proper rest and repair of our bodies. This is why, setting and sticking to a weekly running schedule of 4-5 runs a week can help improve your sleep drastically.
Running also leads to the release of endorphins  which are essential for your mood and are natural pain killers. Other hormones such as dopamine and serotonin which are also released while running are known as the happiness and pleasure hormones. At the same time, the increased cortisol released as a result of engaging in a physical activity suppresses stress. All of these hormones are excellent natural remedies for anxiety, depression and stress.
So, if you want to get proper sleep, fight away stress and anxiety and improve your learning skills, memory recall and other everyday skills and alertness, you should seriously consider becoming a regular runner.
Running will help your brain renew its cells and grow, will improve its functionality and strengthen the interconnections between the neurons and the different brain areas, and will help you become a happier, more productive and alert person in your everyday life!
So, don’t just go out there on the track in order to lose weight, get fitter and improve your physical health! Think about the positive effect which running will have on your brain power, you mind and your mental capabilities as well! Reduce the aging of your brain, and improve its function by becoming a runner now!
1. Raichlen DA, Bharadwaj PK, Fitzhugh MC, Haws KA, Torre G-A, Trouard TP and Alexander GE (2016) Differences in Resting State Functional Connectivity between Young Adult Endurance Athletes and Healthy Controls. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 10:610. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00610
2. Neurons feel the force – physical interactions control brain development
3. Yes, Running Can Make You High, Gina Kolata, NY Times