People who practice endurance physical exercises such as long-distance runs, for example, benefit from healthier brains in addition to skeletal muscles and cardiovascular health. It has been evident for a long time that aerobic exercise is beneficial to the body’s health in general, but its influence on the brain has become apparent only in recent years. Numerous studies are now creating a large amount of scientific data about the neurological benefits of running in humans. Among other things, running promotes stronger functional connectivity between brain regions and can help prevent or diminish the impact of aging-related neurological diseases.
Aerobic exercise improves functional connectivity
In a study conducted at the University of Arizona, published in the scientific journal Frontiers In Human Neuroscience, magnetic resonance imaging revealed that the brains of young cross country runners (aged 18 to 25 years) had stronger functional connectivity — connections between distinct brain regions sharing similar functions — than the brains of sedentary individuals who did not practice physical activity during the previous year. According to the study, areas of the brain such as the frontal cortex or hypothalamus are stimulated by repetitive physical exercises to create better connections.
This work demonstrates that simple physical activities like running can shape the brain to the same extent as activities that involve fine motor control or high coordination. David Raichlen, one of the study’s authors, highlights how repetitive physical activities also involve complex cognitive functions. The associate professor of anthropology also points out that researching the impact of physical exercise on the brains of youngsters helps scientists understand how the areas of the brain stimulated by running could affect aging, since aging affects the same regions. As the functional connectivity of the elderly changes over the years, being active as a young adult is most likely highly-beneficial.
Additionally, improved functional connectivity has implications in all neurological functions in the brain. Not surprisingly, research is showing how the brains of physically active people are healthier and display stronger cognitive performance than the brains of sedentary people.
Regular aerobic activity decreases the likelihood of developing neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disorders, may help prevent and treat drug addictions, and combats depression owing to its uplifting effects on mood – professional sprinters often experience a self-induce ‘runner’s high‘. The ultimate take away is that the gradual shift from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle in human populations might be partly contributing to the increasing incidence of neurodegenerative disorders worldwide.