THE RUNNING KLUB ARTICLES

HOW RUNNING IMPROVES YOUR BRAIN

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Prof. Federico Heredia Barion 

Mind and Body, body and mind, I think this is another great example of the fallacy of the common cartesian division between body and mind, and again another quite obvious case of how deeply wired we are as a species to live better through  MOVEMENT as one of our biggest drivers of evolution. To become the Species we are, and we have been over the last 200,000 years approximately, there have been several evolutionary ‘springs’, all closely related and interacting together. Becoming upright, bipedal (hands free, not quadrupeds), omnivores and many more human-like features, has also allowed us to develop the most neurally dense brained  specie. The “smartest” one, the more intelligent one. There is really insightful research showing the link between fire cooking (meat included!) as one of the triggers to growth and sustain such a high capable nervous system in humans. My point here is to show you, eager reader, that we have such amazing traits, digestive, movement, nervous system and much more all integrated in a way that all together support and enhance our chances of survival.

You will find out that I often use the saying “FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION” and this is what I mean when I say that movement is one of the major triggers of our evolutionary path, we as human beings , are born to move, born to run. You just need to pay attention to the most obvious side of a person, his outside anatomy. Quickly you realize all the features so closely related to most effective ways to walk, to endurance run, to climb , to jump, etc. I’ll cover in more detail our evolutionary movement features in an upcoming article since it is one of the most fascinating subjects as Coach and Lecturer.

“Humans are the only primates capable of sustained long-distance running, and this behavior likely significantly shaped the evolutionary departure of humans from other primates”

So maybe right now if I mention BDNF, VGF, OREXIN, etc., you might get lost. These important components are some of the cascades of molecules/genes/proteins/hormones that are activated when we move, when we run, and impact within your brain. Activates the proper path to rebuild and improve your brain cells and therefore increases your cognition and mental health. These are some deep features that explain the reasons why we have evolved with and through movement.

In several regards, our body shows  its PLASTICITY every time we, as individuals, allow it. Since we are such adaptable creatures, this plasticity pretty much refers to the capacity to change and to accommodate not just our structure but also our function, our behaviors. This also correlates with our nervous system and it’s called neuro-plasticity. The ability of our neurons to form different adaptations and ‘remodel’ our neural hardware.

This is a two edged sword. If you and our entire civilization are lacking in the movement department, in quality and quantity, and we can measure the outcomes regarding the Neurological approach. This astonishing well provided plasticity could also recover and sometimes revert if you play your cards accordingly, so this is the good news, you can still maintain or improve your mental health and cognition throughout your lifespan.

Just to mention one of the most well known elements in neuroscience related with the neural generation and regeneration is, BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) sometimes it is referred to as the “substrate” for maintenance and growing of the neural cells. BDNF is a proven key player in the health and improvement of our nervous system, and the opposite, the lack of BDNF has been proved to be linked with neurodegeneration and mental illness like Alzerimer, depression, dementia, etc. 

How can we get more BDNF? Move! Run!

Not just the BDNF but other neuron growth factors like VGF (VGF nerve growth factor) or Orexin are also now known as enhancers of our brain cells and all of these enhancers are mediated and activated by movement. Running is one of the Human movements that correlate the most with these neurotrophics activity.

“Exercise has been known to stimulate neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus, and the increases in hippocampal size seen in exercising humans correlate with exercise capacity ( O2 max) and circulating BDNF”

Walking 30min/day will bring some neurological benefits, but also and furthermore, the mixing of different activities, or in the case of running, try to “blend” different intensities and volumes. Different kind of terrains, uphill, downhill, bends, rock, grass, tarmac and so on. This provides certain variety that also increase the brain stimulus and adaptation.  

So the takeaways are quite easy to understand, and even more (and most importantly) should be easy to put in action: You, your body, your brain, NEEDS to move, needs to run and needs to be active enough to have a longer and better life. 

Below is a summary of what happens in your brain from a ‘form and function’ role.

  1. Learning improvement 
  2. Memory improvement
  3. Ameliorates depression
  4. Produces antidepressant effects
  5. Mood improvement
  6. Helps in  new skill acquisition
  7. Benefits over neurodegenerative illnesses (Parkinson disease and Alzheimer)
  8. Sleeping improvement

Looking forward to seeing you all running!

References

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  • Bramble DM, Lieberman DE. Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.Nature. 2004; 432:345–352.
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  • Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S,Foti F, Ferraioli G, Sorrentino P and Sorrentino G (2018) Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits Front. Psychol. 9:509.doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509.
  • Running Forward
  • New Frontiers in Endurance Exercise Biology Glenn C. Rowe,Adeel Safdar and Zolt AranyOriginallpublished182014https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.001590Circulation.