If you’ve ever asked why runners (or at least, dedicated runners) keep running, their answers usually have something to do with more than just the physical benefits of the sport.
These answers may feel abstract and uninspiring, especially if you’re the kind of person who is unwilling to put one foot in front of the other for more than 30 minutes.
Can it be that runners are just wired differently, as embodied by their ability to spend that much time running on the road?
Can an activity that first timers often perceive as dull or even excruciating at times have real, universal psychological benefits?
The answer? A resounding yes.
Science suggests that running does has positive impacts on both the brain and the mind. As reported by the British Psychological Society Research Digest in a great post, running acts as the catalyst to various changes in the brain. For example, it can shrink temporarily from long-distance running.
Brain-shrinking and other physical transformations might be irrelevant to everyday runners (and non-runners).
Below are more relatable studies for anyone who enjoys running, or who are just intrigued by its widespread charm:
1) Willpower and Cognition Can Be Improved by Sprints
It turns out that increased running speed and better endurance are only some of the key benefits of sprints.
In a study described by the BPS post linked above, participants who completed a series of short, periodic sprints for ten minutes exhibited excellent mental control, or what the study had labeled “executive function”.
Within 45 minutes, better mental performance became very notable, significantly improving how the participants engaged in decision-making, self-control, and willpower.
A similar study added to the potential benefits of sprints, where subjects were asked to memorize made-up words.
Interestingly, the group that performed a series of short but impactful sprints before the test were able to pick up the words 20% faster than the other group, and displayed better retention even after being re-examined a week later.
2) Running Sharpens the Mind
It’s common for runners to associate the sport with better concentration levels, but science shows that a varied form of running can also improve mental agility.
In one recent study, a group of sailors were asked to engage in interval running, where they were asked to alternate fast and slow speeds for a period of seven weeks.
When tested against a group that participated in other kinds of exercise, the runners exhibited better aerobic performance, in addition to “superior gains in their cognitive flexibility”.
3) Tranquillity Can Be Achieved Through Running
Seasoned runners would tell you they enjoy the sport primarily because it brings peace of mind. It’s easy to see why this would make sense; after all, all running is all about mental fortitude.
Perhaps even the most seasoned runners would confess that training is never a walk in the park.
However, in a study published by Experimental Brain Research, they explained that brain scans of veteran long-distance runners do have less activity in certain key areas of the brain, making them more “peaceful”, so to speak.
The study suggests that this is made possible by the physical as well as the psychological demands of such an intense sport.
As runners train to build endurance and speed, they are used to training their minds to slow down their heart rate in order to run more miles. Consequently, this allows them to “quiet down” specific areas of the brain.
4) The Rate of Brain Cell Growth is Increased
For years, scientists assumed that a human brain remains the same throughout a person’s life.
Recent finding in the scientific community prove that our bodies do continue to create new brain cells throughout our lifetime.
In fact, this process can be enhanced and sped up through running. While this research is especially true in rodents, scientists are currently figuring out just how applicable this is to human brains.
5) Running Eases Stress
Runners commonly confess that they love running because it’s a great way to reduce stress.
True enough, there is a scientific basis for this common sentiment. Something as short as a 30-minute jog can help individuals handle negative feelings; there’s a reason why exercise is prescribed by thousands of physicians in curing depressive symptoms.
This effect was even more significant to individuals who reported a more difficult time in processing emotions. Subjects reported feelings of ease, relaxation, and even better emotional control after engaging in their running.
Does Running Turn You into A Superhuman?
The findings explored by the BPS blog post serve as very compelling proof that runners become sort of superhuman, although we must realize that these improvements in mental activity only occur short term.
On the other hand, while these physical and chemical changes are not necessarily permanent or long-term, the demands of running organically improve one’s long-term discipline, mental fortitude, and cardiovascular endurance, all of which are as good as any super human power.
So lace up your shoes, and start running.
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