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Running Improves Brain Function in Young Runners

Looking to boost brain power? You may want to lace up those sneakers and head out for a long run, suggest researchers from the University of Arizona.

While there’s been plenty of study on exercise and brain function, these UA researchers wanted to know if a movement requiring little motor-control precision—like distance running—could affect neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections. Most research to date has focused on older adults, but this study targeted younger minds.

The researchers analyzed the mental differences between 11 experienced endurance athletes and 11 nonathlete controls. Subjects were aged 18–25 and had similar body mass index measurements. They underwent aerobic assessments and MRI scans, which were used to determine differences in brain function.

“Our results suggest that engagement in high levels of aerobic activity in young adulthood is associated with differences in resting state functional connectivity in networks known to be linked to executive function and motor control compared with more sedentary individuals,” the authors concluded. They added that these data could highlight the importance of early-age endurance activity as a protective mechanism against age-related cognitive decline.

“The areas of the brain where we saw more connectivity in runners are the same areas impacted as we age, so it 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,” said study co-author Gene Alexander, PhD, in a UA news release.

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