Running and the brain!

I’ve dipped a little into the effects of exercise on mood and mental state however, it seems running has some physical affects on your brain itself too!


A bit more on emotions…

I stumbled across an interesting piece of research by Bernstein & McNally (2017) which measured emotions before an after a 30 minute exercise. They used a sad video from The Champ and found that any aerobic exercise (moderately) helped potential emotionally vulnerable people to be able to hold their emotions better when watching the video directly after compared to before! Now as an emotionally vulnerable person, I can agree with this. After a run I feel tough (sounds silly I know).

That ‘runners high’

Boeker et al (2008) used PET scans to assess the chemicals in the brain before and after a 2 hour run. Their results showed increased opioid binding (what makes us feel good) across several areas of the brain compared to before the run. This can lead to a ‘natural high’ – one of which that is similar to morphine! No wonder many runners get the running bug.

Brain volume

Did you know that over time our brain shrinks by 0.2% per year? Surprised? I was! So we’d better start on making sure I don’t loose any brain volume. Luckily Killgore, Olson & Weber (2013) found that those who exercise maintain a larger amount of grey matter (the stuff that counts) specifically in the hippocampal region (where our memories live).

Executive function

Executive function is the set of skills controlled by the frontal lobe which help you get things done (for example, attention skills, time management etc), of course we want to have our mental skills alert at all times and Cooper et al (2016) did a stroop test of executive function on some adolescents who like to run – well sprint. Cooper found that executive functioning was higher immediately after sprinting and up to 45 minutes later! Unfortunately they did not repeat the test any further than this but it would have been interesting to know how long the affects last for.


Exercise and running can help you to learn and recall information.. Raichlen et al (2016) found that there is increased connectivity between the frontal parietal network (where our executive functioning stems from) and other parts of the brain such as the hippocampus and other areas (where our working memory and self control are based), suggesting that we are more likely to remember things! They also found that our default mode network (the resting brain) is suppressed while running and so our brain is more active.

A time for peace and quiet

Lastly I want to emphasise what I love about running – quiet time. Wollseiffen et al (2016) did EEGs on ultra runners on a 6 hour long run (at various points) they found that in the first hour and from then on, each runner had reduced activities in the frontal cortex – this means that their brain was able to relax a little as the motor cortex was being stimulated more – this can lead to runners not thinking about what they are doing and just doing it! I can account for feeling more relaxed mentally after a run. This can also improve blood flow.


Today’s run…



Today was planned to be a tempo run – if I’m honest after Tuesday’s disastrous run I was dreading today. My legs are beginning to feel tired from the increased mileage and the knowledge that I am going to be tackling the hilly Tonbridge Wells Half Marathon at the weekend is causing some anxiety, but I thought I would get it out of the way.

The beautiful sunshine and the chill in the air meant that even the hundreds of children getting in my way in the park didn’t annoy me (who knew it was half term!?). I thoroughly enjoyed this run and felt ready to tackle the rest of today’s blog post – mentally sharpened for sure!

Tomorrow is moving and handling training so I’ll be using my remaining transition time to do some research for saturday’s blog. See you then!


Bernstein, E.E. and McNally, R.J., 2017. Acute aerobic exercise helps overcome emotion regulation deficits. Cognition and emotion, 31(4), pp.834-843.

Boecker, H., Sprenger, T., Spilker, M.E., Henriksen, G., Koppenhoefer, M. Wagner, K.J., Valet, M., Berthele, A., Tolle, T.R. (2008) The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain. Cerebral Cortex (18) 11, 2523–2531.

Cooper, S. B., Bandelow, S., Nute, M. L., Dring, K. J., Stannard, R. L., Morris, J. G., & Nevill, M. E. (2016). Sprint-based exercise and cognitive function in adolescents. Preventive Medicine Reports, 4, 155–161.

Killgore, W.D., Olson, E.A. and Weber, M., 2013. Physical exercise habits correlate with gray matter volume of the hippocampus in healthy adult humans. Scientific reports, 3, p.3457

Raichlen, D.A., Bharadwaj, P.K., Fitzhugh, M.C., Haws, K.A., Torre, G.A., Trouard, T.P. and Alexander, G.E., (2016). Differences in resting state functional connectivity between young adult endurance athletes and healthy controls. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 10, p.610.

Wollseiffen, P., Schneider, S., Martin, L.A. et al. Exp Brain Res (2016) 234: 1829.


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