This Is Your Brain On Run

I’ve been running for a few months now.

It all started as a means to get vaguely fit and “swimsuit ready” in June, where I resolved to run every day in the hopes of making myself feel better. It worked! By the end of the month, I felt more relaxed and rested despite working more and, after a visit to the doctor, my blood pressure was markedly more centered. No, I wasn’t miraculously “hot” but that vision for exercise was quickly replaced with “feeling better.”

The funny thing is that I wasn’t running that long or that far. The runs were maybe twenty to forty minutes, spanning maybe a mile and a half to three a morning, usually something brisk and easy like the former mile plus. I never brought a phone with me or a monitoring device and just ran to run, without the weight of a timer or pressure of a device trying to get me to “work harder.”

The running has continued for the majority of this year and has been a relatively easy exercise to keep up. Although I can’t speak directly to all of the health aspects, it’s easy to see that running is literally doing the body good. As Harvard Medical School pointed out in 2014, the benefits of even a little running go a long way as “even five to 10 minutes a day of low-intensity running is enough to extend life by several years, compared with not running at all.” How about that?

The most surprising result of running is a clearer mind. This thought has recurred while running as various stories have supported this thinking. In a study of rats earlier this year, the animals participated in running, interval training, and weight training to see which exercise was best for the brain. The results are obvious.

Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.

No, the study hasn’t revealed the why in this but it does make it clear: running is good for the body, especially the brain. It’s the workout equivalent of brain food.

Even sweeter? Running can repair the effects of alcohol on the brain. This has been an added personal discovery in my year of running as I’ve learned that a quick morning run can help curb the fogginess of a hangover. Beyond that, it gets your head straight. The New York Times explains.

In each study, the brains of the rodents that exercised after receiving alcohol were substantially different from those of their sedentary counterparts. The inactive mice had weakened mitochondria in many neurons; the runners had hardy mitochondria. The sedentary rats given alcohol had almost 20 percent fewer neurons in their hippocampi than the control animals. The rats who were made to work out, though, had as many neurons as the controls, even if they were given alcohol.

As we get older, extending time and relationships with substances like alcohol, it’s important to keep this information in mind. Why? Because it can be what turns back the clock and strengthen your mind. Again: it clears the fog.

While I am not a fucking crazy person about running, I do see the very obvious benefits of running as I have been a test rodent of my own. I still try to run five days a week, give or take, because it’s such an easy, simple, free way to stay fit that involves nothing else but yourself and a good pair of running shoes. Beyond that, it’s greatly beneficial for the brain. Here’s hoping that the benefits of running continue and, who knows, maybe I’ll do something crazy like a triathlon soon. Maybe.

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