Photo used with permission from David Robert BliwasMost people are aware of the fact that running is a fantastic way to improve cardiovascular health and burn calories. While these are reasons enough to hit the road, research is beginning to uncover the significant benefits that running has on brain function. Here are a few of the benefits that can be experience by anyone who chooses to incorporate running into their daily lives.
Alleviates anxiety. The "feel good" chemicals produced during a run have been shown to help even those with moderate to severe anxiety disorders calm down. The aerobic exercise can actually prevent such anxiety by reducing anxiety sensitivity. Next time you are feeling stressed, hop on the treadmill or take a run around the block.
Sharpens memory. Running regularly boosts memory and improves your ability to learn new things. Any exercise that causes you to break into a sweat is producing hippocampus, which is a key ingredient in the process of learning and memory retention. This is especially important for the developing brains of children (another important reason why recess is a valuable part of your child's education). Include your child in your exercise routine so you can both reap the memory boosting benefits.
Improves self-confidence. Feeling a bit down about your appearance? A good run will bring things into perspective and make you feel like a million bucks. Regardless of weight, size, height, gender, or age, a run will almost immediately elevate your perception of your appearance.
Prevents cognitive decline. As we grow older, our brains tend to become a bit hazy. While this is an unpleasant reality to consider, it is encouraging to know that running (particularly between the ages of 20-45) is a powerful tool to prevent and slow down the cognitive decline.
Boosts creativity. A good run can actually increase creativity for up to two hours after the fact. Immediately after a heart pumping workout is actually the very best time to set to work on a project that requires creativity.
The benefits of running go beyond losing weight and getting fit (although those are important as well). To learn more about the ways in which running positively impacts the brain check out the articles included below.
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Longitudinal examination of the exercise and self-esteem model in middle-aged women. Elavsky S. Department of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 2010 December;32(6):862-80.
Exercise counteracts declining hippocampal function in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Intlekofer KA, Cotman CW. Neurobiology of Disease. 2012 June 30.
Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity. Broman-Fulks JJ, Berman ME, Rabian BA, Webster MJ. Department of Psychology, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, USA. Behavior Research and Therapy. 2004 February;42(2):125-36.
Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM. Department of Family Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. 2011;41(1):15-28.
Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Erickson KI, Voss MW, Prakash RS, Basak C, Szabo A, Chaddock L, Kim JS, Heo S, Alves H, White SM, Wojcicki TR, Mailey E, Vieira VJ, Martin SA, Pence BD, Woods JA, McAuley E, Kramer AF. Department of Psychology, University of Pittsgurgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2011 February 15;108(7):3017-22.
High impact running improves learning. Winter B, Breitenstein C, Mooren FC, Voelker K, Fobker M, Lechtermann A, Krueger K, Fromme A, Korsukewitz C, Floel A, Knecht S. Department of Neurology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2007 May;87(4):597-609.