Science has shown a direct link between physical fitness and memory, the ability to focus, and the ability to learn new things. Additionally, the cardiovascular benefits of running also seem to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later on.
Being Fit Can Make You Smarter
Here are some things that modern researchers have learned when comparing brain anatomy and the benefits of running and other forms of physical fitness:
The earlier you start running the better
In studies done with transgenic mouse models and Alzheimer’s, the earlier mice started their running routines (running in the wheel for them, running on the road or trail for you) the better. Mice that started a regimented physical fitness routine earlier in their brain development were the least likely to develop memory issues when they got older.
Even so, mice that started running later in life still showed decreased symptoms of Alzheimer’s, like memory loss, when compared with their sedentary counterparts (more on this later).
Perhaps the most amazing news is that it takes only three weeks for scientists to notice the positive affects of physical fitness and cognitive improvements. And, in case you’re not interested in mice, a similar, long-term study was done by the University of Minnesota on nearly 3,000 participants, evaluating the effects of physical fitness and cognitive ability over the course of 20 years. Those who were more fit on the treadmill 20 years after the initial trial also performed better on cognitive tests.
What does this mean for you?
If you’re already running, great. If you’ve been a lifetime runner but are having physical issues, simply tone it down and add more joint-supportive activities such as swimming or yoga to the routine – you’ll still reap some benefits. If you don’t have an active fast-walk or running schedule, now is the time to start. It only takes about six weeks to work up from a non-runner to a 5K athlete.
Benefits of running take place immediately
If you’re in the market for long-term physical and mental well-being, do make an effort to run or workout for at least 30-minutes a day, five days a week. Even so, studies done at the University of Illinois have shown how a quick run or other form of acute, physical activity (at least 20 minutes, at 60% max heart rate) can result in immediately enhanced cognitive performance, including improved test scores, better problem solving, improvements in goal-oriented actions, as well as faster response times and accuracy.
It’s never too late to start running
In case the line above about “the earlier the better” diminished your enthusiasm, know that another University of Illinois study demonstrates that physical fitness has a positive effect on cognition in older adult populations as well.
For that study, researchers evaluated cognitive function of both men and women between the ages of 55- and 80-years of age. The study proved that physical fitness did, indeed, enhance cognitive function – even in adults previously diagnosed with some form of cognitive impairment.
The bottom line is that running isn’t just good for your heart and your body, it’s good for your brain as well. So get up, tie your jogging shoes, hit the road and get smarter!