We already know that running makes people happier, healthier and live longer, but now scientists have found another benefit – it might make you smarter too.
Researchers in America have found that the brains of people who go cross-country running tend to be better connected than those who don’t.
Overall, endurance runners’ brains exhibited better connectivity within different regions, such as the front cortex, which is key to decision making and planning.
The researchers are now planning to do more research into whether these connections translate into improved cognitive functioning.
The study examined MRI scans of cross-country runners aged between 18 and 25.
“One of the things that drove this collaboration was that there has been a recent proliferation of studies, over the last 15 years, that have shown that physical activity and exercise can have a beneficial impact on the brain, but most of that work has been in older adults,” said David Raichlen, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona.
“This question of what’s occurring in the brain at younger ages hasn’t really been explored in much depth, and it’s important.”
Previously researchers have found that activities requiring fine motor control like playing a musical instrument or playing golf can alter the brain’s structure.
But this is one of the first to assess a more repetitive exercise, and researchers think they will have the same affect.
“These activities that people consider repetitive actually involve many complex cognitive functions ― like planning and decision-making ― that may have effects on the brain,” Raichlen said.
Scientists now want to explore whether running at a younger age can help to protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s that affect the same areas of the brain.