How Running Helps Your Brain
It has long been recognized that exercise improves your health. It stimulates blood flow, encourages the production of feel-good chemicals, and develops a “positive stress” that causes your body to rise to the occasion.
But the brain is one of the main beneficiaries of exercise, especially repetitive exercise like running. Whenever you run, that exercise increases the growth factors for the brain, which causes it to grow new connections between its nerve cells.
This helps to improve memory and learning, because the enhanced blood flow impacts small areas in the brain (the hippocampi, technically speaking) that are dedicated to memory function. The latest research is showing that these brain areas, which would ordinarily deteriorate with age, continue to function at a high level in runners.
When you run, the parts of your brain that create habit are happy, because the continuous breathing and rhythmic action, taking step after step, feels like habit to the brain, and the brain flourishes. This makes it easier to focus, because the behavior of running keeps the brain focused on a single task. The focus and habit centers of the brain expand instead of withering with age and stress. Instead of the distraction of multi-tasking, there is concentrated effort, which slows and reduces the aging process.
The combination of the increased blood flow, the production of these stimulating chemicals, and the application of focus and habit formation inspires the brain to function better, longer and more efficiently.
There’s another brain benefit to running – it’s the “runner’s high,” which is nothing more than the brain manufacturing more feel-good chemicals, like dopamine. They don’t only feel good, they relax, calm and please the brain, which translates into a generalized good feeling that affects the entire body.
How much do you need to run to help your brain? There’s no specific routine, but even a little running will inspire these positive benefits, so if you want your brain to last longer, work better, and be healthier, start to run – it makes your brain very happy.