Here’s How a 30 Minute Run Impacts Your Brain

Alyssa Atkinson

It does more than you might think.

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Photo by Eugene Lagunov on Unsplash

Each morning, I go out for a run of at least 30 minutes. I have been doing this repeatedly, day after day, since I was a senior in high school.

Up to that point, I had always played basketball in the winter. However, after receiving an athletic scholarship to run cross-country and track for Ohio University, I decided to switch to indoor track my senior year to focus all my attention on running.

After six years of heading out the door and into the sleet, snow, rain, and freezing temperatures that are non-negotiable when you live in the midwest, I have developed a strong sense of why I run.

To many peoples’ surprise, my purpose for running has nothing to do with competition. While it was the main driving force when I was in college, I now run for the joy it brings me, the health benefits, the sense of accomplishment I feel, the tone it sets for my entire work day, and of course, the mental clarity.

I have always heard that running is great for the heart, but what isn’t often discussed is running’s impact on the mind. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to do some research to learn more about how running affects the brain.

While some of my findings weren’t all that shocking, others were truly surprising. I think they are meaningful enough to share with all of you. Thus, the following are three incredible ways that running impacts the brain. After reading them, you just might feel the urge to go for a run.

1. It will relax your body and mind in this way.

If you have ever heard the term “runner’s high”, it is essentially a reference to the euphoric feeling you might experience after you complete a run, or sometimes even midway through.

However, that feeling of pure bliss is actually quite rare, and what you are likely experiencing in reality is exercise’s impact on the brain.

In fact, David Linden, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, states:

“Exercise increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream…Unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can move easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain, where these mood-improving neuromodulators promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.”

Whenever I got incredibly stressed out in college (usually in the middle of a lengthy coding project, I know my fellow coders can relate), I loved to take a break from it all and go for a run of about 30 minutes in length.

Almost every time I did so, I was able to come back and re-approach the problem in a calm, collected manner. I felt the impacts of running on the brain almost exactly as described above, and I’m sure many of you can relate to this experience.

Nowadays, I use a similar strategy when I get frustrated with my work. If you find yourself in an upsetting situation, I urge you to take a 30 minute break to go for a run as well. It truly can help you calm down, clear your mind, and ultimately, find a solution to your problem.

2. It provides these long-term brain benefits.

If you thought that a run’s impact on your brain only lasts for a few hours, you are severely mistaken. In fact, adding a 30 minute run to your daily routine will provide a number of long-term mental benefits.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine:

“The mental benefits don’t stop when you finish your run — regular cardiovascular exercise can spark growth of new blood vessels to nourish the brain. Exercise may also produce new brain cells in certain locations through a process called neurogenesis, which may lead to an overall improvement in brain performance and prevent cognitive decline.”

Therefore, if you make a regular habit of running 30 minutes per day, you will not only boost cardiovascular health, but also nourish your brain through blood vessel growth. In turn, this can prevent mental decline long-term.

3. It affects how your brain views food.

This one was probably the effect that I found most shocking. After you go for a run, your brain can actually optimize systems that help you eat to the point of nourishment rather than overindulgence.

In fact, according to Runner’s World,

“On a brain-chemistry level running can actually aid the systems that prevent you from overindulging. A study at the University of Western Australia found intense interval training was most effective in regulating appetite.”

I have personally noticed this sensation with my own training. When I work out especially hard, I tend to have a suppressed appetite for a few hours after my run, but I am able to make up for the calories lost later in the day. On these particularly hard workout days, I always seem to be especially in tune with my hunger cues, which helps me eat to satiety.

I never thought much of it, but now I understand that it could be a result of my brain communicating optimally with the systems which help me eat to satiety without overindulging to the point of being uncomfortably full.

It’s an interesting impact of running on the brain that I wasn’t previously aware of, and you may not have been either.

Final Thoughts

There is no denying that running is a wonderful form of exercise that impacts not only the heart, but also the brain.

I am incredibly grateful that I developed the habit of running daily all those years ago, because I have set myself up for greater health, happiness, and brain function. I look forward to my daily 30 minutes of bliss, and running is a form of exercise I truly enjoy and have been able to stick with long term.

If you are in search of a simple yet effective way to stimulate the brain, grab your sneakers and head out for a run. You just might find that it’s the perfect addition to your daily routine.

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Ohio U XC/Track alum. I love to run. I blog about food, health, fitness, lifestyle, etc. Personal Blog - nomeatfastfeet.com | Electrical and Computer Engineering Grad.

Raleigh, NC
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