Runners show greater connectivity between vital parts of the brain than non-runners, new research finds.
Stronger connections are seen in areas important for decision-making, planning and controlling attention.
It is one of the first studies to show the benefits of running on younger brains in this way.
Dr David Raichlen, the study’s first author, said:
“One of the things that drove this collaboration was that there has been a recent proliferation of studies, over the last 15 years, that have shown that physical activity and exercise can have a beneficial impact on the brain, but most of that work has been in older adults.
This question of what’s occurring in the brain at younger ages hasn’t really been explored in much depth, and it’s important.
Not only are we interested in what’s going on in the brains of young adults, but we know that there are things that you do across your lifespan that can impact what happens as you age, so it’s important to understand what’s happening in the brain at these younger ages.”
Researchers measured the activity in the brains of people between the ages of 18 and 25 while they were at rest.
Activities which require fine motor control — like playing a musical instrument — have previously been shown to alter brain function.
Fewer studies, though, have looked at repetitive activities like running or cycling.
Dr Raichlen said:
“These activities that people consider repetitive actually involve many complex cognitive functions — like planning and decision-making — that may have effects on the brain.”
Professor Gene Alexander, a study co-author, said:
“One of the key questions that these results raise is whether what we’re seeing in young adults — in terms of the connectivity differences — imparts some benefit later in life.
The areas of the brain where we saw more connectivity in runners are also the areas that are impacted as we age, so it really raises the question of whether being active as a young adult could be potentially beneficial and perhaps afford some resilience against the effects of aging and disease.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Raichlen et al., 2016).