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Learn to Run, Run to Learn

Sustained Aerobic Exercise May Benefit Brain Cells 

Read any fitness publication these days and you’re sure to hear about HIIT—high intensity interval training. We’ve covered it too. HIIT can be an efficient way to burn calories and improve physical fitness, but it’s not the only way to get in a workout. Research published in The Journal of Physiology suggests moderate-paced endurance exercise may be beneficial to your brain. 

Scientists from Finland looked at the effect of exercise on adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN), a process that makes the brain cells needed for learning. In the lab, rats engaged in endurance running, HIIT or weight training. Analysis showed levels of these brain cells were much higher in rats that did endurance running—weight training and HIIT seemed to have little effect on the AHN process. 

The link between endurance running and AHN may stem from more than just the exercise itself. The longer someone runs, the more likely he or she is to encounter new environments that stimulate the brain. Even on a treadmill, the brain could be primed to expect a change of scenery. This makes sense—we’ve previously discussed how an hour’s stroll through the countryside can boost cognitive recall by nearly 20%

So what does this mean for your exercise routine? We recommend including a variety of workouts each week, such as endurance, HIIT, weight training, yoga, or Pilates. You’ll reap the benefits that come with each form of exercise, and most experts agree variety is exciting for both the muscles and brain.

Published September 1, 2016

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