Can a short run improve brain function?

A new study investigates whether going on a ten-minute, moderate-intensity run can improve brain function and enhance cognitive performance. 

Exercise has a variety of benefits for the body, and incorporating it regularly can be a great way to boost overall health.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise as well as two periods of muscle-strengthening activity each week.1  

The benefits of exercise are not just limited to those on physical health; getting regular exercise can be helpful for brain health.  A growing body of research suggests that aerobic exercise can help improve mood and reduce the risk of conditions such as anxiety and depression.2,3  Moreover, studies show that exercise may help improve brain function and cognitive health.4  The potential benefits of exercise continue to be explored. 

The focus of aerobic exercise, which is increasing your heart rate through physical activity, can be done in a variety of ways.  For example, cycling is a great low-impact activity with a relatively low risk of injury that can help improve cardiovascular endurance and build muscle.  Another example is running, which also has a variety of benefits on cardiovascular and muscular endurance.  

Since running is a weight-bearing exercise, it requires a significant amount of concentration and brain power to activate muscles and distribute weight evenly to prevent injury.5  In order to further explore this, a study in Japan investigating changes on mood, pleasure, and cognitive performance after a ten-minute run was conducted.5  The findings were recorded and published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

The study group consisted of 26 healthy participants with no underlying physical or psychiatric health conditions.  Half of the participants ran at a moderate-intensity pace, as determined by their oxygen uptake, for ten minutes while the other half served as a control group and did not.5  

Their performance on two scales, the color-word matching Stroop task (CWST) and the Two-Dimensional Mood Scale (TDMS), was measured before and after the run to measure changes in cognitive function and mood, respectively. 

In the CWST, participants are shown the name of different colors as written in other colors; for example, a participant may be shown the word “blue” written in red font.5  The cognitive function of the participants is measured by their accuracy as well as response time.  In the TDMS, participants are asked to rank their self-reported feelings of eight different emotions on a scale of zero to five.5  Their scores on these rankings are used to measure participants’ mood. 

The study found a greater improvement in CWST and TDMS scores in the group that ran compared to the control group.5  This could potentially indicate that the experimental group displayed improvements in cognitive function and mood; however, more research is needed to confirm this relationship.  More research is also needed to determine whether these same effects would be observed with increased duration or varying intensities of running, as well as examine this relationship in larger-scale studies. 

Although the findings of this study are promising, it is important to note that running is not a safe activity for every individual; health conditions and medical histories can put certain people at an increased risk of injury. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program to make sure it’s right for you. 

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020, October 7). Physical Activity: Adults. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 2021, December 6, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
  2. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., Petty, F.D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 8(2): 106. Doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
  3. Guszkowska, M. (2004). [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood] (translated). Psychiatr Pol 38(4): 611-620. Accessed 2021, December 6, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15518309/
  4. Mandolesi, L., Polverino, A., Montuori, S. (2018). Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol 9: 509. Doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509
  5. Damrongthai, C., Kuwamizu, R., Suwabe, K., et al (2021). Benefit of human moderate running boosting mood and executive function coinciding with bilateral prefrontal activation. Scientific Reports 11: 22657. Doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-01654-z
  6. Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay 

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