How running can boost your brain health

Running works wonders for your wellbeing, but did you know just how much it could help your brain?

How running can boost your brain health

Memory function

Old age and memory loss tend to go hand-in-hand. Forgetfulness affects a huge percentage of over 65-year-olds and there are currently 850,000 people with full blown dementia in the UK. While we can't stop the effects of time, the factors leading to mental degeneration can be slowed down and exercise could be the answer.

New research has shown that the area in the brain responsible for memory is larger in people who exercise regularly, and smaller for those who don’t. ‘Physical exercise has an anti-ageing effect on the hippocampus region of the brain - an area that controls memory, learning and balance,' explains Dr. Andrew Thornber.

The hippocampus is also the key brain region affected by Alzheimer’s disease, so this potential improvement is great news for regular runners and a definite pull for encouraging more people to get active. 

How running can help

Studies show that in order to improve your memory, aerobic exercise such as walking, running, swimming or cycling should be your exercise of choice. This type of fitness demands breathing harder to deliver oxygen to working muscles. In turn your heart pumps blood around your body at a greater speed, particularly to the brain and the hippocampus. Regular running will have this effect, as will some speedy interval training  

Exercise more often

Going for a run won’t improve your memory in a flash but a regular running routine has been shown to make significant changes. A recent study encouraged normally sedentary adults aged between 57-75 to exercise three times a week over a 12-week period. Findings demonstrated that as a result of this regulated exercise a greater increase in brain blood flow correlated with improved memory performance.

If you’re already up and out of the door every day of the week this advice need not apply, but if you’re just getting started, small bursts of exercise for even a few minutes a day is a good place to begin. Aim to increase the amount you exercise by 10 minutes each week, working towards the recommended 150 minutes per week, broken down into three or four chunks.

Embrace aerobic exercise

Brain health and aerobic exercise go hand-in-hand, but neurological improvements are not running specific. If you don't fancy going for a run, it still pays to get moving so find what works for you. Being creative with exercise can be easier than you think. 'Don’t forget that household activities can count as well, such as intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat,' says Dr. Thornber. So get up, get moving and give your brain health a mega boost!

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