As runners, we love to hear about how good our sport is for us physically. And there’s no question that exercise produces myriad positive changes in one’s body, ranging from greater insulin sensitivity to increased cardiac output, and of course, increased endurance.

But what about mentally? Does exercise play a role in enhanced cognitive abilities? You bet!

It’s true: exercise boosts cognitive ability.

That’s right: exercise benefits your brain. A new study in a publication called Brain Plasticity documented the effects that various bouts of exercise had on cognitive ability.

According to Wendy A. Suzuki, PhD, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science, New York University, “Exercise interventions are currently being used to help address everything from cognitive impairments in normal aging, minimal cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s disease to motor deficits in Parkinson’s disease and mood states in depression.”

This was an extensive in-depth study, analyzing such details as (are you ready?): “lactate, glutamate and glutamine metabolism, effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis through cortisol secretion, and neurotrophins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Neurotransmitter studies of monoamines (dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine), acetylcholine, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) were reviewed, as well as neuromodulators such as endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids.”

In order to see just what effect exercise has, the researchers looked at brain imaging and electrophysiological studies, including electroencephalography (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Here is what they learned:

  • They observed improved executive function, enhanced mood, and decreased stress levels.
  • Exercise causes widespread brain areas and brain systems to be activated.
  • one of the biggest open questions in this area is the relationship between the central neurochemical changes following acute exercise, that have mainly been described in rodents, and the behavioral changes seen after acute exercise reported in humans. Bridging this gap will be an important area of future study.

“The studies presented in this review clearly demonstrate that acute bouts of exercise has profound effects on brain chemistry and physiology, which has important implications for cognitive enhancements in healthy populations and symptom remediation in clinical populations,” commented study Co-author Julia C. Basso, PhD, post-doctoral research fellow, Center for Neural Science at New York University.

Translation: Exercise, including running, is good for body and mind. But if course we runners knew that all along.

Upcoming races: 5th Annual Thumpin’ 5K, June 24, Rodeo Arena/City of Luling Airport, Hwy 183 at 7:30 a.m. Keep Austin Weird 5K, June 24 at 6:00 p.m. downtown at Auditorium Shores. Freedom 5,000, July 4 at 8:00 a.m., Camp Mabry, Austin.