We’ve spoken previously at 99% Fit about the brain benefits of exercise. From preserving cognition to boosting creativity, regular physical activity has been clinically proven time and again to improve our brain power. We’ve recently come across some additional mental benefits of exercise – specifically, benefits associated with sports requiring physical coordination and running.
Sports that require eye hand coordination and rhythmic coordination – like tennis, baseball, gymnastics, or dancing – have been shown to improve the interplay between the parts of the brain responsible for cognition and mental focus for some time. Much like playing a musical instrument, these physical activities require the brain to access several different executive functions: forward planning, memory, motor skills, to name a few.
As it turns out, even running is now thought to help people accrue some of these same benefits, though at first glance running doesn’t seem to require the same level of skills as some of the aforementioned activities. The University of Arizona recently compared the brains of 11 male competitive runners against the brains of 11 sedentary males and found a much greater amount of connections between different parts of the brain in the runners versus the sedentary study participants.
While this particular study was conducted against a very small sample size and shows a correlation and not a definitive causation between running and increased brain connectivity, it certainly stands to reason that such a causation could exist. Dr. Gene E. Alexander, one of the study authors, pointed out “[Running] requires complex navigational skills, plus an ability to plan, monitor and respond to the environment, juggle memories of past runs and current conditions, and also continue with all of the sequential motor activities of running, which are, themselves, very complicated.” Given this, it will be interested to see whether further studies examining the brains of endurance athletes in sports like biking or swimming demonstrate similar findings.
This study is simply the latest in a constantly growing body of research that underscores not just the importance, but the necessity of regular physical activity. It’s becoming ever-clearer that human beings aren’t meant to sit around all day. We’re meant to be out in the world moving our bodies. What’s fantastic about this truth is that there are multiple different ways and many different intensities for movement, making it easy to find a way to integrate movement into our lives that feels authentic, seamless, and easy.