If you’re thinking about taking up running as your New Year’s resolution and still need some convincing, consider this: MRI scans reveal that endurance runners’ brains have greater functional connectivity than the brains of more sedentary individuals.
University of Arizona researchers compared brain scans of young adult cross country runners to young adults who don’t engage in regular physical activity. The runners, overall, showed greater functional connectivity within several areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex, which is important for cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making and the ability to switch attention between tasks.
As decribed by Raichlen and Alexander “This question of what’s occurring in the brain at younger ages hasn’t really been explored in much depth, and it’s important,” he said. “Not only are we interested in what’s going on in the brains of young adults, but we know that there are things that you do across your lifespan that can impact what happens as you age, so it’s important to understand what’s happening in the brain at these younger ages.”
Previous studies have shown that activities that require fine motor control or high levels of hand-eye coordination, such as playing a musical instrument or playing golf, can alter brain structure and function. Raichlen’s and Alexander’s findings suggest that these types of activities could have a similar effect.
“One of the key questions that these results raise is whether what we’re seeing in young adults — in terms of the connectivity differences — imparts some benefit later in life,” said Alexander, who also is a professor of neuroscience and physiological sciences. “The areas of the brain where we saw more connectivity in runners are also the areas that are impacted as we age, so it really raises the question of whether being active as a young adult could be potentially beneficial and perhaps afford some resilience against the effects of aging and disease.”
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