Running is either your best friend or your worst enemy. Whether you’re a total newbie who cringes at the thought of a two-mile run or a veteran marathon runner, a new study came out that running can actually make you smarter, encompassing both ends of the spectrum. So how exactly does it make us smarter?
“Aerobic exercise, such as running, has positive effects on brain structure and function, for example, the generation of neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, a brain structure important in learning,” the study reads.
Researchers found that sustained aerobic exercise increases adult neurogenesis in the brain. When the neuron reserve increases we are able to learn much more, thus making us smarter. Other research says that children perform better on tests after exercise and that cognitive function increases by 5% to 10%.
“Exercise improves attention, memory, accuracy, and how quickly you process information, all of which helps you make smarter decisions” says Charles H. Hillman, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
We’ll give you more reasons to blow the dust off your running shoes and hit the pavement (or treadmill) with these 6 ways that running can make you smarter.
1. Sharpens mental focus
Running can very well be the cure when you have trouble paying attention, be it at work, school, or in your relationships. If you seem easily distracted, there is evidence that sticking to a structured aerobic exercise routine may help you focus. Psychotherapist Alex Giorgio says his patients had overcome attention deficit issues with aerobic exercise. To test this out for yourself, try running a little bit before heading to the office.
2. Improves ability to process information
When you workout, your body breaks a sweat. But inside your body, there is blood that bathes your brain cells in oxygen and glucose and the more they get, the better they perform. Also when you workout, muscles send hormones to your brain that promote mood regulation and learning. Without these hormones your body would have a hard time taking in new information.
3. Makes you more productive
The International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that employees were 23% more productive at work following bouts of exercise. Olympic triathlete Tim Weeks said, “Running acts as a catalyst to improve productivity. It pumps you up, improves your confidence, it increases your capacity, it inspires creativity, and it builds momentum.”
Exercise brings our motivation, attention, mood, and stress levels back to equilibrium. It rebalances everything in our body making for a more fulfilled and motivated life.
4. Promotes creative thinking
Do you have writer’s block, or trouble coming up with new ideas at work? Running may help you think out of the box according to David Blanchette and his team of researchers. Published in the Creativity Research Journal, they found that people were more creative up to two hours after exercise. More research found that performing activities like running or aerobic exercise gives our mind a break, so when we come back to our task we may connect things we never did before according to Keith Sawyer, PhD.
5. Natural anti-depressant and stress reliever
Running releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain. It enhances neurotransmitters that elevate your mood which can sometimes eliminate the need for anti-depressant medications. Running helps you reduce mental fatigue and feel less stressed, which can sometimes lead to depression. Running helps keep negative thoughts at bay, distract your mind from problems in your life and be able to make clear-headed decisions.
6. Slows the aging process
Ever wonder why you see 90-year-old marathon runners? Running keeps them young! Marathons are the one event they say gets easier as you age. Mental functions decrease as you get older because there is a decline in neurogenesis (or birth of neurons) and a decrease in the size of the hippocampus. As we just learned, running increases the size of the hippocampus which helps slow down the brain’s aging process. Up to 50% of neurogenesis can be restored through running or aerobic exercise.