According to Schulkin (2016), based on animal and human studies, the act of running impacts the physiology of the brain, as a result of:
- neurogenesis – the process that forms new neurons in the brain
- neural plasticity – the ability of the brain to adapt and change throughout the course of the individuals life
- memory enhancement – improvements in the brains ability to store and recall memories
One of the areas of brain seemingly most impacted by neurogenesis, in response to running, is the hippocampus – a region most closely linked to memory. Running has also been linked to changes in the BDNF gene, associated with the perception of effort.
In human studies, children participating in aerobic activities display improved mental cognition and older adults have an increased hippocampus volume.
Such plasticity in both animal and human brains as a function of aerobic exercise has considerable impact on our long term mental health and deserves considerable attention.
Schulkin, J. (2016). Evolutionary Basis of Human Running and Its Impact on Neural Function. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 10. doi:10.3389/fnsys.2016.00059