Running reverses the damaging effects of chronic stress on critical areas of the brain, new research finds.
Stress can damage the functioning of the hippocampus, a structure of the brain important for memory and learning.
Running, however, protects the brain’s ability to learn and recall information, even under stress.
Dr Jeff Edwards, the study’s first author, said:
“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress.”
Prolonged stress weakens the synapses — the connections between brain cells — in the hippocampus.
The study on mice, though, found that running over a 4-week period negated these negative effects.
Stressed mice who exercised did just as well on a maze-running experiment as non-stressed mice who exercised.
The mice who exercised also had stronger connections between the synapses in their brain.
Naturally, the best memory and learning performance is achieved in a low stress, high exercise environment.
Dr Edwards said:
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise.
Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise.
It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (Roxanne et al., 2018).