If you think about it, there really should not be any connection between running and your brain. I suppose you do have to think a little about where to put your foot next. Or how to avoid dogs on the street. However, unlike playing the violin or competing in a chess match which requires a fair amount of mind and body coordination or deep thinking; for the most part running should be fairly non-taxing for the brain. Yet, study after study seems to show a profound impact of running on your mind. What gives?
Your brain has different parts; each with a different role. Your frontal cortex is essential for cognitive functions such planning or making decisions. The cerebrum performs functions such as interpreting touch, vision, and hearing. Your cerebellum coordinates your movement and posture. The different parts of your brain have connectors between them that allow you to combine functions. The strength of these connectors gives your brain the dexterity to switch between tasks or even perform multiple tasks that require diverse skills. Playing a violin for example.
Undoubtedly, one of the keys to the benefits of running is the secretion of Endorphins. Endorphins are your very own painkillers. More importantly, though, running has been shown to strengthen the connections between the various parts of your brain. In a study done at the University of Arizona, young adults who ran regularly underwent a brain scan. Their results were compared with another set who were not physically active. The ones who ran showed a marked increase in functional connectivity that those who were sedentary. The results were similar to those who had regularly engaged in activities known to develop the brain.
In general, as you age, your brain shows a reduction in functional connectivity. Also, those who have brain related diseases such as Alzheimer’s show a significant deterioration in brain connectivity. So Run, Forrest, Run!