Running May Be As Good for Your Brain As Playing a Musical Instrument

Whether you’re already an avid runner or somebody who has considered starting to run, you now have more than just physical health and that “runner’s high” feeling to motivate you to lace up your shoes and hit the road (or treadmill).

A study from the University of Arizona revealed that running involves a higher level of thinking than most people might assume. The researchers found that endurance running may actually impact brain structure and function in ways comparable to performing complex tasks that require fine motor control, such as playing a musical instrument.

Several young adult males ages 18 to 25 with comparable body masses participated in the study by undergoing MRI brain scans in a resting, wakeful state while not engaging in any sort of specific task. The subjects were either experienced endurance runners or non-runners who hadn’t engaged in any physical activity for a year at the very least.

The brain scans of the runners showed greater functional connectivity in comparison to the sedentary group. These connections between distinct regions of the brain were seen in several areas, one of which was the frontal cortex, which is associated with planning, decision-making, and the ability to shift focus from task to task.

There have been other studies done on activities that require fine motor control (such as playing an instrument) and how they affect the brain, but not many have examined how repetitive athletic activities that don’t require as much fine motor control might affect the brain. Similarly, some studies have looked at the brains of sports athletes who need to rely on hand-eye coordination, mental focus, and strategy to participate in their sport (such as gymnasts and badminton players) — but running isn’t the the type of physical activity we typically associate with complex cognitive functions.

The researchers pointed out that since functional connectivity may change as people age, further research on how running affects the brain could help play an important role in preventative methods for cognitive decline in older adults and for those with certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. At this stage of the research, what’s occurring in the brains of younger adult runners isn’t quite clear just yet.

Regardless of what else still needs to be researched, it’s safe to say that running is a great exercise habit to develop for most healthy people not suffering from any serious conditions or injuries. If you’re a beginner to the wonderful world of running, make sure you do your research and plan accordingly to avoid getting overenthusiastic about your new exercise regimen.

Running is a high-impact form of physical activity that can cause injury when performed improperly. WebMD provides the following recommendations for beginner runners:

  • Hydrate and feed your body with a light carb/sugar snack 30 minutes before your run. This will give you the energy and focus you need to keep you going.
  • Grab a running partner. Running with someone else can be great motivation.
  • Don’t push yourself so hard that you’re huffing and puffing or in pain. Pace yourself to avoid overexerting or injuring yourself.

Remember to get proper running shoes as well. That old pair of runners you’ve had for years sitting in your closet may not give you the support you need to run — especially if you plan to head outdoors and on uneven terrain. Here are 7 tips to get the best shoes for high-impact/high-intensity exercise.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

61 comments

Jim V
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Richard A
Richard A4 months ago

Thank you for this article.

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Siyus C
Siyus C5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jay W
Jackie W5 months ago

saw this article not too long after i was debating on taking up running - its a sign !

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chris b
chris B5 months ago

No running for me. Too hard on the body. Walk, climb, hike, ok.

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Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fook5 months ago

ty

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Danuta W
Danuta W5 months ago

thank you for posting

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Ron B
Ron B5 months ago

So maybe running while playing a musical instrument at the same time could be twice as good! I wouldn't recommend trying to run and play the piano at the same time however.

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Anwar B
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Debbi -
Debbi -5 months ago

Running puts a lot of pressure on your knees, especially if you run on cement or black top. Running on sand would be a great work out and you wouldn't have to run that far or for that long to gain the benefits, plus you could do it bare footed. I agree with Emily. I prefer walking and you can thing very well when you're walking.

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