Charlotte Davey | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Grab Your Trainers, Running Makes You Smarter

Grab Your Trainers, Running Makes You Smarter

The Debrief: An excuse to buy new gym gear?

It's British summer time, and it's actually sunny. We need an excuse to go outside. It's common knowledge now that running can help you to combat anxiety, alleviate depression, and lose weight, but sometimes that just isn't enough of an incentive to peel yourself off the sofa and into some trainers. So how about new evidence that running can make you smarter? Going for a quick jog isn't suddenly going to make you a brooding intellectual with a head the size of Arnold (ya know, from Hey Arnold! remember him?!), so let's look at how this actually works.

When we exercise, a process called neurogenesis, where the brain makes new cells, is induced in a part of our brain called the hippocampus - which forms memories. Again, this doesn't directly make you more intelligent but the new cells set you up to learn, and facilitate greater memory retention and spatial memory. A recent study has found that it is specifically running and intense aerobic activity that has a positive effect on the creation of new brain cells. The findings showed that while anaerobic resistance training (that's weightlifting to us mere mortals) is bloody good for physical fitness, it doesn't make us any smarter.

Now, we know how running increases our brain power, but why does running make you more intelligent and increase your spatial memory? Vybarr Cregan-Reid, author of Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human writes in an article for The Conversation that we evolved for 'persistence hunting' (hardcore) - hunting animals over long distances until they became exhausted. Cregan-Reid explains, 'it was a risky activity because it required hunters to leave behind the places they knew [...] With no map-making technologies, the navigatorial skills of the brain had to step up and do all the work'. So, not only does it make us smarter, it sharpens our human SatNav in the form of spatial memory. 

Not only can running improve your mental health, physical health, and intelligence, it has also been found to decrease chances of developing Alzheimer's. With all these benefits, there's no excuse not to slip on your running shoes and hit the park. You can binge watch Netflix after. Who knows, you might actually learn more from it? 

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