Study Shows Benefits of Running on Mood and Brain Function

For most people, running is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to exercise. It can improve bone strength, muscle strength, and cardiovascular health. More importantly, mental health can also be benefited. A recent study conducted by the University of Tsukuba in Japan suggested that running with moderate intensity around 10 minutes per day can help improve executive processing and boost mood.

The results were published in the Scientific Reports journal. In the project, the scientists examined the mood and executive function of 26 participants, who ran 10 minutes on a treadmill. After that, they compared the measurements with those at rest. The executive function is measured with the Stroop task. This means participants were presented with color words in random colors and had to name the letter colors instead of reading the word. During this task, the researchers used near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor changes in blood flow and measure their brain activity. In addition, they had to complete a 2-dimensional mood scale questionnaire to assess their mood changes.

The findings suggested that running resulted in a noticeable increase in mood. More specifically, the mood scale suggested increased arousal and pleasure.  Participating runners also had increased brain signals and completed their Stroop task more quickly. Along with previous studies, the results of this project have shown that physical activities may boost executive function through the activation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

A major drawback of the study is that there were only 26 participants. This makes it more difficult to draw any conclusion in the general population. In addition, it is necessary to know that the mood scale may be biased as it is self-reported. Participants would not always answer precisely.

The authors also said that it could be hard to determine whether these changes linked to increased pleasure and arousal level may be related to the increases in the blood level of the neuromodulating endocannabinoids, which would happen with running. This could actually lead to psychoactive effects that result in improved calmness and reduced anxiety in the short term.

Certain studies suggest that regular exercise may increase the size of the hippocampus, a brain area important for memory storage. Nevertheless, the study did not point out whether participants worked out regularly or not, which would affect the results.

For this reason, further research is necessary to assess the benefits of running and physical exercises on both physical and mental health.


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