It turns out there’s a physical reason for all of this glorious feel good factor, because only one activity is known to trigger the birth of those new neurons in the brain: vigorous aerobic exercise (and it doesn’t get much more vigorous than running) according to the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.
Interestingly, when these neurons are created, it happens in the part of the brain that’s associated with learning and memory, giving an indication as to why lots of studies show a link between exercise and memory.
Running also stimulates the blood flow to the frontal lobe, which is linked to concentration, focus and goal setting. In other words, the study says that 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise per day as part of a long term habit basically helps you to clear your mind and be more focused.
The same part of the brain is also linked to emotional control and wellbeing, helping us to cope with anxiety and stress. Basically, running makes us feel better, which those of us who already run know, and for anyone who hasn’t quite caught the bug yet probably induces a faint sense of dread and horror.
On a personal note, I credit running with being the key to positive mental health as well as physical health, always finding phenomenal balance in getting outdoors into the fresh air and using the time to let thoughts unravel and untie any knots that have got in there over the course of the day. It is as much for me, about getting outside and away from the computer, the phone and white noise in general for a little while as it is about fitness – my own mini digi detox if you like.
In Murakami’s musings in his famed book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running he said: “People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that.”
Running’s definitely not the only way to do that; everyone finds their own form of meditation and way to calm the mind, but at least for now, running has a scientific stamp of approval in case you want to give it a go.
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