Thursday, July 27, 2017

Study Suggests Running May Lead to Higher-Level Cognition

Dr. Mack Hines leads as CEO of an education consultancy and serves as a tenured associate professor of educational leadership at Sam Houston State University. In his free time, Dr. Mack Hines enjoys running.

Running regularly may result in a more highly functioning brain, according to a December 2016 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona, the study examined the brains of competitive collegiate male distance runners and those of similarly aged men who had not exercised in the previous year. 

Using MRI scans, the researchers discovered that those in the former group had a greater number of connections in parts of the brain that aid in multitasking, decision making, attention, working memory, and visual and sensory processing. In addition, the competitive runners showed less activity in areas of the brain associated with a wandering mind and a lack of focus.

Researchers have long known that mastering certain skills and engaging in sports that require hand-eye coordination have positive effects on certain parts of the brain. However, because of the simplicity of running, many people do not think of it as a mentally demanding activity that can lead to more sophisticated cognition.

While additional research needs to be undertaken to confirm the findings, the results of the study suggest the aforementioned belief is incorrect. In the future, the University of Arizona researchers hope to learn whether running is directly responsible for the positive changes in the brain. They also hope to determine whether the cognitive benefits of running extend beyond college-aged athletes and whether other endurance activities can have similar effects.