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Study: Endurance running could lead to a better working brain

In this July 7, 2016 photo, a runner strides along the cross country course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Jonathan Elderfield)

PHOENIX — Endurance running could help improve the functionality of your brain, a recent study from the University of Arizona found.

The study compared brain scans of young males aged 18 to 25 who ran cross country versus those who did not. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found the runners showed “greater functional connectivity” in areas of the brain that are used for complex problem-solving and planning skills.

University of Arizona psychology professor Gene Alexander co-designed the study with university running expert David Raichlen. In a press release, Alexander questioned whether the results of the study could benefit runners as they age.

“The areas of the brain where we saw more connectivity in runners are also the areas that are impacted as we age,” Alexander said in the press release. “It really raises the question of whether being active as a young adult could be potentially beneficial and perhaps afford some resilience against the effects of aging and disease.”

Raichlen said he felt it was important to explore this topic because an individual’s actions at a young age can impact their physiology as they age.

“This question of what’s occurring in the brain at younger ages hasn’t really been explored in much depth, and it’s important,” Raichlen said in the press release.

Previous studies have shown activities requiring fine-motor control – for example, playing a musical instrument or golf – can alter brain structure and function. However, fewer studies have looked at the effects of more repetitive athletic activities such as running.

The study’s findings suggest these types of activities have a similar effect.

It’s not clear whether the physical differences observed translated to better cognitive function, such as multi-tasking. However, the study lays the groundwork for more studies on this.