How Much Running is Required to Produce Positive Results in Your Brain?

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How Much Running is Required to Produce Positive Results in Your Brain?

Jim Windell

             Lots of exercises are good for you. Cycling, walking and running are typically cited as great exercises to keep you physically fit. But what about physical exercises that promote healthy brain functioning?

           And what about running, which is an intense exercise? Does it benefit the brain? If so, how much running is required to bring about more healthy brain processes?

           These were questions addressed by a research team at the University of Tsukuba, a public research university located in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.  

           Past research has certainly confirmed that physical activity has many benefits, including the ability to improve mood. However, running was seldom studied in terms of evaluating effects on the brain and the mood. Cycling was often the form of exercise studied. But running has long played an important role in the well-being of humans. As a form of intense exercise and sustained exertion, there is little to compare with running – especially sprinting as opposed to jogging. And other researchers have not studied the effects of running on on brain regions that control mood and executive functions.

           “Given the extent of executive control required in coordinating balance, movement, and propulsion during running, it is logical that there would be increased neuronal activation in the prefrontal cortex and that other functions in this region would benefit from this increase in brain resources,” explains Professor Hideaki Soya, one of the authors of a new study recently published in Scientific Reports.

           Soya and his colleagues sought to test the hypothesis that the prefrontal cortex and other functions in the region would benefit from running. Using the well-established Stroop Color-Word Test, the team captured data on hemodynamic changes associated with brain activity while participants were engaged in each task. For example, in one task, incongruent information is shown. That is, for instance, the word red would be written in green and the participant must name the color rather than read out the word. To do this task, the participant’s brain must process both sets of information and inhibit the extraneous information. The Stroop interference effect was quantified by the difference in response times for this task and those for a simpler version of the task -- stating the names of color swatches.

           The researchers found that after 10 minutes of moderate-intensity running, there was a significant reduction in Stroop interference effect time. Also, bilateral prefrontal activation had significantly increased during the Stroop task. As expected, after running participants reported being in a better mood. “This was supported by findings of coincident activations in the prefrontal cortical regions involved in mood regulation,” commented first author Chorphaka Damrongthai.

           Thus, it was found that just 10 minutes of moderately intense running can not only improve your mood but it may also improve aspects of your executive functioning.

           But what if you run for an hour a day or for 30 or more miles each week?

           That has yet to be studied, but it may mean even more benefits to your brain. However, this current study may suggest that for some clients a prescription for regular running might be in order.

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Chorphaka Damrongthai, Ryuta Kuwamizu, Kazuya Suwabe, Genta Ochi, Yudai Yamazaki, Takemune Fukuie, Kazutaka Adachi, Michael A. Yassa, Worachat Churdchomjan, Hideaki Soya. (2021). Benefit of human moderate running boosting mood and executive function coinciding with bilateral prefrontal activation. Scientific Reports, 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-01654-z


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