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Why You Solve All Your Problems on a Run

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Aside from the benefits that the physical act of running itself has on your health, running comes with its numerous additional perks. Often running is the go-to solution for runners for almost anything. Mad about traffic when you get home?  Go log some miles. Over-indulged at lunch and feel kind of icky? Add a mile or two on to your run. Dealing with insomnia or having trouble sleeping, increase the duration or pace of your run.

Running seems to solve all problems, even ones that have no direct link to our running. Having trouble figuring out how to organize a project or event? The answer just might come to you mid-run.  Been knee deep in data at work all morning and just can’t quite figure out how to convey your information clearly? The clarity might come to you during your speed work. Running is often viewed as a great way to stay in shape and as a good way to de-stress, and when you think about it, it’s probably also been a great problem solver. Are runners wishfully thinking or is there some real proof running can help you find solutions for your problems?

More & Bigger Brain Cells

Recent research shows that when we run or exercise new brain cells are created, specifically in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is in charge of new memories. Sounds crazy because until this recent finding scientists thought people were born with a finite amount of brain cells, meaning new growth was impossible.

In order to generate these new brain cells, the activity you do must be able to increase heart rate and body temperature.  Basically, you need to be performing at an intensity that will produce sweat. For aerobic exercises, like running, the immediate results in the brain are improved focus and concentration.  That’s perfect because even the slowest or lowest mileage run typically produces those results.

Regular, moderate intensity exercise, like running, done for at least a six months can improve memory and thinking skills.  What is considered “regular” in terms of your routine? Basic recommendations are half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Weekend Warriors will need to incorporate a few more runs or other aerobic workouts during the week to reap any brain benefits.

Exercise Your Brain & Body

If you run and use your memory at the same time, the brain cell growth will become permanent. Think of it as creating blood flow and brain food simultaneously. Running gets brain cells multiplying and thinking about any issues you need to fix ensures those new cells stay around. It’s similar to running and then choosing a healthy, nutritious meal after– the hard work logging miles doesn’t get blown away by eating half a pizza.

Running and exercise also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that makes brain cells stick to each other. Your brain connections (also known as synapses for those who remember it from science class), memory and attention span become stronger during and for a short time span after a run.

One short run can raise your higher-order thinking skills. You’ll be more productive and efficient leading to solutions for your nagging problems. BDNF can improve time management, help you formulate arguments, develop strategies, be creative and connect information. BDNF is normally idle and makes a connection with the increased blood flow that comes during your run. Therefore, you do actually think better when you run because your ability to think is enhanced.

How to Harness the Brain Power

Is running going to make you smarter? No, but it will help keep you mentally sharp.  If you are really chewing on an issue or need to be at the top of your game, skipping your runs can actually hinder your performance. If the aerobic exercise of running can assist you in being the most dynamic person you can be, why not add brain power to the list of reason you can’t possibly skip your run?

Running isn’t going to solve all of your problems but the time you have blocked off allows you to think, entertain all your options, de-stress and create new brain cells. Taking the time to log a midday run on your lunch break might be a good idea if you have an afternoon meeting where you really need to be at your peak cognitively. The same can be said about logging early morning miles if you have a long morning of planning and brainstorming ahead.

The nice thing is that your run doesn’t even have to be long distance or at a very high intensity. Twenty minutes of sweat-producing intensity will kick-start your brain growth.  Another item to keep in mind is outside stimuli. Running on a well-known less trafficked path where you can run on autopilot instead of having to remember where you turn or follow a map is ideal.  Your entertainment of choice might also need some evaluating. Music that you can zone out to or no music at all will be better listening material for problem-solving than listening to a podcast or watching television if you are on a treadmill.

It’s not a crazy notion hoping that a run will solve your problems because science can back you up on that notion.

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