Runners’ Brains Work Better?


PHOENIX, Ariz. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Good for your heart. Good for your muscles. But is running good for your brain? A pair of researchers at the University of Arizona just found that it improves the connectivity of parts of the brain … parts that lose traction as we get older. Here is more on a study that may convince you to get you moving.

Gabe Mogollon is an Arizona state champion middle school runner.

“Each day I just kind of have like a mini goal to do whatever during my run, so when I’m done, I feel like I’ve done something for the day,” Mogollon, now in high school, said to Ivanhoe.

Gene Alexander and David Raichlen compared MRI’s of eleven collegiate runners and eleven non-runners.

“From looking at these scans, we were able to tell that the endurance athletes who engaged in a lot of physical activity had areas of the brain that were more active and more connected than the non-athletes,” Gene Alexander, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Arizona told Ivanhoe. (Read Full Interview)

The red shows more connection between parts of the brain responsible for memory, decision-making and multitasking. The yellow shows the same thing. This could be from increased blood flow or production of factors that help neurons work better and grow.

“What we know right now is that something is better than nothing and it’s more than likely you’re going to get big bang for your buck if you go from very little activity to some activity,” David Raichlen, PhD, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona stated.

Brain connectivity diminishes as we age and is a factor in diseases like Alzheimer’s. What the researchers learn from young runners now could help aging adults later.

“We’re hoping to find ways in which we can use exercise to improve the brain function structure as we age and provide recommendations and prescriptions for better aging,” Professor Alexander explained.

So even in his teens, Gabe is on the right track.

Increased brain connectivity has also been found in people who do activities using fine motor skills like playing musical instruments. The researchers say running also takes complex thinking, as athletes navigate or plan where to run or how to keep balance.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4296

BACKGROUND: Alzheimer’s destroys the memory and other important functions of the brain. What may start out with confusion and difficulty remembering may lead to drastic personality changes.  There is currently no cure for the disease. It is believed that the causes for Alzheimer’s are a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. A brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease has many fewer cells and many fewer connections among surviving cells than does a healthy brain.

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TREATMENT:  Evidence has shown that changing to a healthier lifestyle can help prevent disorders like Alzheimer’s.  In fact, the factors that put you at risk for heart disease can also lead to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. These factors include lack of exercise, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a diet lacking fruit and vegetables. Other studies have shown that there is a correlation between lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.

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NEW PROCEDURE: A study done at the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Exercises that included resistance training, balance and muscle toning did not have the same results. In the study participants walked quickly for one hour, twice a week making it 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. Swimming, tennis, dancing, or even stair climbing keep the heart pumping and are good exercises to start trying.

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David Raichlen

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Gene Alexander, PhD

Read the entire Q&A