Sure, running is a good way to stay fit and healthy, but many fans of the activity claim to be hooked not just because of its physical effects, but also because of it's mental ones.
Some say it builds resilience, others that it clears the mind, and yet others insist that getting out for a run spurs creative thinking and aids decision making. Here's one guy who even claims running made him a better business owner.
Are these positive mental effects simply a product of athletes' psychological quirks? Or is there something fundamental about hitting your local jogging path that affects cognition? Neuroscience, apparently, has the answer -- and it's good news for committed runners.
Why running refreshes your brain
"About three decades of research in neuroscience have identified a robust link between aerobic exercise and subsequent cognitive clarity," reports a recent Science of Us blog post on the mental impacts of running. In fact, running seems to boost the near-miraculous process of neurogenesis in which fully grown adults actually grow new brain cells (learning and sex also speed the process).
Where exactly do these new cells pop up? "In the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory," notes the post. "This could help explain, at least partially, why so many studies have identified a link between aerobic exercise and improvement in memory."
Sweat your way to a clearer mind
But apparently, running doesn't just give birth to new, memory-boosting brain cells. It also causes changes in the brain's frontal lobe, a region associated with emotional regulation, planning, and focus. That might explain the results of some more recent research out of Harvard on the mental effects of running, which is also covered in the Science of Us post.
The researchers demonstrated that a 30-minute run helped participants recover more quickly from the emotional effects of watching a horribly sad video clip. This is, in essence, scientific backing for runners' claims of their hobby's mind-clearing effects.
That's not the end of the long list of the mental benefits of running though. The fact that chugging along for miles on end is kind of boring (I'm a runner so I say this with affection), seems to allow your mind to wander in a way that's particularly fertile for coming up with new ideas and making fresh, powerful connections, contends the post, which offers many more details on the science if you're interested in a deep dive.
The bottom line? Runners aren't crazy to claim that pounding the pavement is good for the psyche. Science, it seems agrees.
If you're a runner, have you experienced these mental effects documented by science?