A study reported in a New York Times blog piece last week confirms what we runners have known for years: running is the best exercise for our brains. The area of science called neurogenesis focuses on the growth and development of nervous tissue which is common in pre-natal development. It has been known that certain exercises change the brain’s structure (increased brain volume and reduction of size and frequency of age-related holes in the white and gray matter) but scientists now know which exercises are most effective for producing new neurons. Yes, researchers compared the neurological effects of running, weight training and high-intensity interval training in rats. It must be pretty cool to see rats doing resistance training, i.e. climbing a wall with tiny weights attached to their tails! Those gym rats can be so ostentatious, can’t they?
Anyway, the rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of new neurons. The brains of the high-intensity interval trainers showed the second highest amount just ahead of the sedentary animals. Interestingly, the greater the distance that a rat runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.
I suppose this may explain why many of us got better grades in school during sports seasons. It always seemed counter-intuitive that I performed better academically in months when I had less free time. Reflecting on fitness since then, it is safe to say that I perform better at work when I am training for marathons. I sleep better and eat better and am a more pleasant person. With all my experiential proof and now more scientific evidence, how can I succumb to laziness and not head out for a run this weekend? I need to make sure that I refer to this study when my friends see me gearing up for a run on a windy, frigid and call me dumb!
In a similar vein, a few minutes of solid prayer bear the same fruits as running for me. I am less stressed, sleep more soundly, stay focused at work, and perform better in most aspects of life. Besides the secondary, pragmatic reasons to pray, prayer honors God. It recognizes my dependence on grace and the blessings bestowed upon me. When the rat race of life wears us down, let’s turn to running and prayer and get those neurons firing!