3 ways running boosts your brain

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It’s a common assumption that once you reach adulthood there’s nothing you can do about the number of brain cells you have, except wave them off as they die throughout your life. Until the late 1990s it was assumed that only children’s brains were capable of continued growth, but then research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, US, found that under certain circumstances adults can experience brain cell regeneration. And yes, running is one of those circumstances.

‘As well as giving you a good dose of the runner’s high (which is caused by endorphins), a trot or two round the block will also help develop new nerve cells, leading to a reduction in stress, improved memory, and better motor skills,’ says Rebecca Christenson, sports physiotherapist at Pure Sports Medicine.

How does running affect your brain?

1. Running causes increased activity in the caudate nucleus. This area of the brain is involved in motor function, but also supports memory circuits. Running appears to improve the quality of the signals being transmitted through those circuits, which means better memory recall.

2. Running sparks the growth of fresh nerve cells and new blood vessels. This increases brain-tissue volume – which otherwise shrinks with age – helping to maintain brain function.

3. During exercise, neurochemicals called endorphins and encephalins are released from the pituitary gland, inhibiting the transmission of pain impulses to the brain and acting as a natural painkiller.