Run your way to a bigger brain!
23rd August 2010
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The following article is from member of thebestofchester Mike Searle. Training Director, body4life health & fitness.

It’s widely viewed that as we age, our mental capacities reduce and there is much advice available to suggest that giving your brain a workout can help stave off any decline. Indeed my Mum has always been a big crossword puzzle fan and at the age of 88, her mental faculties show no signs of tailing off and if you add in the recent surge in popularity of ‘brain training’ games that are available for the hand-held Nintendo games console, it looks like an exercise programme for your brain is just as important as one for your body.

Well now there’s new evidence that suggests that you can boost your brain power through exercise, which sounds like a winning ‘two-for-one’ formula that saves time and provides both physical and mental health benefits! A recent study published in the publication, ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, which used combined research from Cambridge University and the National Institute on Ageing in the USA, found that regular running stimulates your brain to grow hundreds of thousands of new brain cells. Neuroscientists discovered that new cells appeared in the area of the brain that’s linked to memory function and recall and they  identified that running can improve memory function which in turn improves the brain’s ability to learn new tasks. This exciting evidence flies in the face of the old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ or why we look to get our children to operate that latest piece of home technology that we’ve bought!

The experts are not entirely sure why running stimulates the growth of brain cells but the study’s author said, ‘we know that exercise can be good for healthy brain function’. However the scientists have hypothesised that the higher levels of hormones which are released when exercising, increases blood flow to the brain and also reduces stress levels. Now the hormone Cortisol, which is linked to stress, inhibits the growth of new brain cells and hence if you can reduce your stress through running, you’re reducing your Cortisol levels.

Even better news is that you don’t need to convert yourself into Paula Radcliffe to enjoy the brain boosting benefits! The study findings concluded that running just a few miles, twice a week was sufficient to produce the positive changes. Now as a long-term and regular runner myself, I see this as excellent news (although I can’t say that my long distance focus on the marathon has turned me into Einstein!) and so this week, I’m focusing upon even more health benefits that running bestows, to tempt you into your trainers and out of the front door!

1. Overall benefits. Now I’m not going to bang on about the more obvious benefits from running which include a stronger heart, lungs and cardiovascular system together with stronger legs because those health gains almost go without saying but are worth a quick mention. However they should not be discounted because even without the mental and further benefits listed below, they’re certainly worth having.

2. Improved mobility. One of my Personal Training Clients was unfortunate enough to suffer a fall whilst on holiday recently but thankfully only suffered a few cuts and scrapes and a dent in his pride! However on his return, he remarked to me that rather than ‘topple over like a sack of spuds’, the fall wasn’t a problem and he pretty much bounced off the ground. My Client identified that his improved mobility and body awareness that he now enjoys from our running sessions enabled him to ‘ride the fall’, whereas previously the outcome would have been very different. And he’s absolutely correct. Through running, he’s improved his all round mobility, body awareness, body control and spatial awareness because the very act of running teaches the body how to cope with instability. Running is effectively hopping from leg to leg and hopping is great for balance and control so a regular running workout improves your mobility.

3. Improved bone density. The impact of running causes a force of up to three times your body weight to be transmitted up your legs as your foot hits the ground. However, don’t worry because this impact is actually beneficial. Inactivity causes the density of your bones to reduce, which can lead to the brittle bone disease osteoporosis but impact activities such as running, stimulate the bones to get thicker and stronger. This is especially important for women, for whom an estimated 50% will suffer an osteoporosis fracture during their lives but it’s important for men too, who can also suffer from the disease. Hence running (and again, short distances are fine, it doesn’t need to be the marathon), is your skeleton’s friend!

4. Further mental benefits. When you exercise, feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins are released and the most well known medium for achieving these benefits is running. There is a well documented condition called ‘the runner’s high’, whereby runners experience a state of euphoria after a run, caused by these endorphins, which make you feel better, positive and help reduce stress. From my own experience of getting the runner’s high, the faster you run, the greater the benefits which is a perfect incentive to move through the gears because you’ll release more endorphins and get fitter en route! Also, as with the previous benefits, you don’t have to be covering great distances to enjoy these mental gains, so just get out there!

5. . . . and finally,  So, simply by running a couple of times each week, you can reverse age-related brain cell decline, maintain all-round body awareness and mobility, strengthen your skeleton and enjoy a 100% legal high! And that’s not including the heart, lung, weight management and strength benefits that you’ll enjoy too! With that weight of evidence there are simply no excuses for not lacing up those trainers and hitting the trails! Enjoy every step of your running from all the body4life health & fitness Team – that’s me, Duncan, Dave, Alison and Tony (All runners to a man – and woman and reveling in our age-offsetting health benefits!).

About the Author

Steve N

Member since: 24th January 2011

Steve is Commercial Director of thebestofchester.

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