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Your Brain on the Run

Do you run to clear your mind? Do you feel distracted if you don’t get your morning running “fix”? Do you joke that you are “addicted” to running? You might be right. Research (as well as personal experience) suggests that running is good for your head.


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The clarity that you experience while running, as well as that feeling of “flow,” has a physiological basis. Running helps to quiet the mind by reducing activity at the front of the brain. This dampening effect reduces mind clutter and increases focus, putting you in a better mental state to solve problems. Writers such as Joyce Carol Oates and Malcolm Gladwell are enthusiastic advocates of using running to help solve writing conundrums. For Oates, running can bring clarity: “The structural problems I set for myself in writing, in a long, snarled, frustrating, and sometimes despairing morning of work, for instance, I can usually unsnarl by running in the afternoon.” (“Eight of Our Favorite Authors on Why They Run,” Outside Magazine)

While the combination of mindfulness and increased productive headspace is great, running also can make you more mentally agile. Running increases the neuron reserves in the hippocampus area of the brain (one of the parts responsible for learning). Researchers now know that the growth of neurons –– neurogenesis –– takes place more readily after endurance exercise rather than in high intensity or resistance training. Long slow distance is good for your brain.

Finally, running is a natural stress buster and mood booster. Running is a great stress reducer, of course, but even a short run can help you to better process emotions. Runs in the thirty minute range quiet intrusive brain activity and help you to think more clearly about what you are feeling and why.

Longer runs, moreover, actually change your brain chemistry. The “runner’s high” is real, but to access this flood of joy, you have to run for a while. A two-hour run can lead to enhanced opioid binding across several areas of the brain which can lead to feelings of euphoria. When you say you are addicted, you have probably have come to depend on the positive neurological benefits and know that you become anxious and grouchy when you miss your run.

Running might be a simple activity but it has some complex effects. When you choose to run, you not only reap physical benefits but also mental advantages. Running helps you solve problems, attain mental “flow,” and even change your brain chemistry in beneficial ways. That’s all the more reason to take a run –– it’s good for your body and your head!

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