24 December 2021

Running for the mind

Just ten minutes of running will improve brain function

"Scientific Russia"

It has long been noticed that physical activity not only strengthens physical health, but also improves memory and mood. Now scientists have studied how running affects the activity of brain processes, and these results can become a guide to action for many of us

The effect of physical exertion on mental state is usually investigated by the example of cycling. However, a more suitable model for such experiments is running: in this case, almost the entire body is involved in the work, and the high need for coordinated actions requires the active participation of the higher departments of the central nervous system.

It is known that when running, not only the premotor cortex is activated, which is responsible for planning and controlling the movements of the trunk, but also the prefrontal cortex, which is also called the "supervisory attention system". This area of the brain is involved in any kind of cognitive activity, including conscious learning. In particular, it is involved in volitional control and emotional regulation, evaluation of contradictory thoughts and motives, forecasting consequences and their correction. However, the effect of running on the work of this part of the brain has not yet been studied in detail.

Recently, a group of scientists led by specialists from the University of Tsukuba (Japan) an experiment was conducted with the participation of 26 people who ran at a moderate pace on a treadmill for 10 minutes. After that, the subjects were tested and compared the obtained indicators with the control ones measured during rest.

The participants themselves assessed the mood on the basis of special tests. In addition, they recorded the level of activity of brain areas using indicators of blood flow intensity.

The work of the prefrontal cortex was evaluated in the Stroop test. In this test, the reaction delay is measured when performing a task in which a person is presented in writing with the name of a color (for example, "red") written in a font of a different color (for example, green). The subject needs to name the color of the inscription, and not read the word itself – while the brain has to process two sets of information at once to suppress unnecessary.

It turned out that after a ten-minute run, the mood of all participants improved, blood flow in the prefrontal cortex areas involved in the control of cognitive functions and mood regulation significantly increased, and the delay time in the Stroop test was reduced.

There are several assumptions about the mechanism of this effect. For example, the improvement of blood circulation and subsequent activation of the brain can be facilitated by kicks on the ground while running, And the movements of the runner's head can affect the functions of the neurotransmitter serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex, which has a positive effect on emotional status, no wonder serotonin is also called a "good mood hormone". However, so far this has been shown only in animal studies.

In any case, 10 minutes of comfortable running is a completely free, easily accessible and effective stimulant of mental activity, which will also certainly be useful for physical and mental health.

Article by Damrongthai et al. Benefit of human moderate running boosting mood and executive function coinciding with bilateral prefrontal activation is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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