Can Running Increase You Cognitive Ability?

Running stimulates the brain to grow fresh cells (a process called neurogenesis) and has a big impact on mental ability.

Can Running Increase You Cognitive Ability? The answer, as it turns out, is a resounding yes. Running (and physical exercise in general) has a net positive effect on cognitive ability.

The evidence is irrefutable. And it’s not just cognitive ability either: the benefits include a reduced response to stress and anxiety, and a significant antidepressant effect!

Cognition: Running (and most forms of aerobic exercise) literally build brains. Researchers conducting a study at the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. (Studying for SATs or LSATs anyone)?

“Engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” said Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School in an article in the Harvard Health Blog.

New Brain Cells: A closer look reveals even more compelling evidence. According to a study performed in 2009 by neuroscientists at Cambridge University, running stimulates the brain to grow fresh cells (a process called neurogenesis) and has a big impact on mental ability, including the improved ability to recall memories without confusing them, a skill that is crucial for learning and other cognitive tasks.

Smart Mice:
The Cambridge researchers, working with the U.S. National Institute on Aging, studied two groups of mice. The first had unlimited access to a running wheel, while the non-running mice formed a control group. Ingenious memory tests applied to the mice revealed that the marathon mice (which were running up to 15 miles a day!) scored nearly twice as high as those of the control group.

Creativity: But wait there’s more! At Leiden University in the Netherlands, a 2013 study by experts found that the cognitive benefits of running can also lead to improved creativity. Additionally, studies have shown that regular exercise (yes, like running) improves the quality of your sleep. And we all know how important sleep is—it affects everything from physical performance to learning ability.

And let’s not forget, that fit people (yes, like runners) almost always weigh less, have better muscle tone, and simply enjoy a greater sense of well-being.

Taken as a whole, it’s easy to understand why most folks who start running are hooked for life!

Upcoming races: Saturday, September 15, the Cedar Park XC Community Open Race (2-Miles), 7:00 a.m. at 2150 Cypress Creek Road, Cedar Park. Sunday, September 16, the 9/11 Heroes Run 5K, 8:00 a.m. at Camp Mabry, Austin.

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