Friday, September 2, 2016

How running frees your mind


Are you suffering a creative blockage? Run. Are you at a crossroads in your life and do not know what decision to take? Run. Do you feel sad, anxious or angry? Run. If you want to free your mind go running won’t disappoint you.

Surely there is something extraordinary in the rhythmic motion of hands and feet that ends synchronizing our minds. In fact, it is difficult to continue to self-pity ourselves while we’re running. When we run we just reach a higher level of clarity, we focus on the here and now. Why?

Running stimulates the growth of new neurons

A nice ride may make us feel like new and, in a sense, is a feeling that is not so far from reality. After over thirty years of research, neuroscientists have identified a link between the aerobic exercise and the cognitive clarity we experience later.

But the most interesting finding in this regard was made in the field of neurogenesis. Until recently it was thought that brain neurons die irretrievably but then it was discovered that, in fact, the brain creates new neurons throughout life. And the best activity to promote the birth of these neurons is the intense aerobic exercise.

Even more interesting it is that many of these new neurons grow in the hippocampus, a brain region linked to learning and memory. Therefore, this could explain, at least in part, the reason why several studies have found that, running, and the aerobic exercise in general, improve memory. The key is to run and sweat a bit for an average of 30-40 minutes. It’s then when we will be enhancing the growth of new neurons.

It increases blood flow to the frontal lobes

In addition, further changes were found in the frontal lobes, responsible for the control of emotions and decision-making capacity. When people do physical activity often, so that it becomes a habit, the blood flow to this region increases. This could be the real reason why after running we can think more clearly, focus better and decide more easily.

In fact, these brain areas are also involved in emotional regulation, and this may explain why after running we can control better our emotions. It was discovered by Harvard University psychologists, which involved some volunteers and divided them into two groups: the first ran for 30 minutes while the others did simple stretching exercises and at the end all together saw a dramatic film.

At the end of the trial all had to indicate how they felt. Fifteen minutes later and again half an hour later, they had to return to indicate how they felt. Surprisingly, those who run recovered more quickly from the negative emotions generated by the film.

Bernstein, E. E. & McNally, R. J. (2016) Acute aerobic exercise helps overcome emotion regulation deficits. Cognition & Emotion; 4:1-10.
Nokia, M. S. et. Al. (2016) Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained. The Journal of Physiology; 594(7): 1855–1873.
Li, L. et. Al. (2014) Acute Aerobic Exercise Increases Cortical Activity during Working Memory: A Functional MRI Study in Female College Students. Psychoneuroendocrinology; 39: 214-224.
Lee, T. M. et. Al. (2014) Aerobic exercise interacts with neurotrophic factors to predict cognitive functioning in adolescents. PLoS One; 9(6): e99222.
Vivar, C. et. Al.(2013) All about running: synaptic plasticity, growth factors and adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Curr Top Behav Neurosci; 15: 189-210.
Thomas, A. G. et. Al. (2012) The Effects of Aerobic Activity on Brain Structure. Front Psychol; 3: 86.


Keep feeding your neurons

How running frees your mind

Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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