This sounds almost like the punchline of a joke at the expense of tea totaling couch potatoes: runners have more neurons and can drink more beer.
Two cool new studies suggest that the health benefits of running are more pronounced than many of us could have hoped for.
Testing the effects of running versus resistance training versus high intensity interval training scientists found that rats that ran consistently for seven weeks experienced significant neurogenesis versus other exercise modes. The New York Times sums up:
Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.
There were far fewer new neurons in the brains of the animals that had completed high-intensity interval training. They showed somewhat higher amounts than in the sedentary animals but far less than in the distance runners.
And the weight-training rats, although they were much stronger at the end of the experiment than they had been at the start, showed no discernible augmentation of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue looked just like that of the animals that had not exercised at all.
For those of you with a small hippocampus (joke!), the aforementioned brain region is responsible for long term memory formation and spacial navigation.
In more good news, had these racing rats been drinking beer or something harder, they would benefited from one of running’s other side effects: reduced liver damage. Another study found that rats that ran for six weeks and were fed alcohol had livers that were almost the same as those of rats that got no alcohol. The authors concluded that “higher physical activity levels seemed to protect against the metabolic dysfunction that eventually leads to irreversible liver damage.”
And a new study by researchers at UC Davis have shown that exercise boosts key neurotransmitters. They found that “Intense exercise increases levels of two common neurotransmitters — glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA — that are responsible for chemical messaging within the brain.”
The researchers went a step further and speculated that marathoners who hit the wall have exhausted their neurotransmitters, rather than their glucose stores, as is often proposed.
“From a metabolic standpoint, vigorous exercise is the most demanding activity the brain encounters, much more intense than calculus or chess, but nobody knows what happens with all that energy,” Maddock said. “Apparently, one of the things it’s doing is making more neurotransmitters.”
Trying to get motivated to run so you can drink more beer or grow more brain cells. Sign up for one of our monthly virtual races or launch a virtual race just for your group, whether charity, corporation, shop, club or gym.