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.”
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The study was published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (Roxanne et al., 2018).