Running for brain health

My body was made for running.

I grew up to be long-limbed. My legs are disproportionately longer than my torso. I’ve always had a knack for running (and walking) long distances and finding the whole experience enjoyable.

When I return from a run I have an unwavering sense of calm that lasts for hours. The problems I had prior to the run somehow seem less severe. My focus is intensified. Everything is clearer. If I could take ‘runner’s high’ in pill form, I would.

I feel an elation to my body that I can’t get from any other form of exercise. We used to call it an ‘endorphin rush’ but neuroscience has since discovered there are other factors at play also.

When it comes to sports and exercise genetics play a key role.

With his long torso, short limbs and big feet, Michael Phelps was made for swimming. Dorian Yates was genetically gifted with a body that allowed him to become the most muscular man in the world. Both of which probably experienced some kind of high after a training session.

My genetics are suited to running. This was verified by analysing my genes using a variety of services and which told me I was more suited to endurance type sports.

While nowhere near elite level, I finished in the top 2 percent of all runners in The Great North Run, which is the world’s largest half marathon. When I train properly I’m at a higher amateur level.

Constant long distance running has its downsides. You lose muscle mass as the body sheds weight through constant cardio. How many jacked long distance runners do you see?

While running can improve joint strength too much of it can weaken it. There’s a balance to be found and it’s not in the upper levels of long distance running. A marathon distance isn’t a healthy mile range to run.

That said, running is good for you when done at the optimal distance. It’s a great form of cardio, requires little investment, you can do it anywhere and runner’s high is real.

Running is exceptionally good for your brain too.

Studies have found that low to moderate intensity cardio increases the hippocampus area of the brain.

In general, those that exercise regularly over a given time have greater hippocampal volume and better memory function. Physical exercise benefits brain power in both young people and older people too.

What’s the best reported cardio exercise for receiving a high? It is, of course, running.



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