A study published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory has shown that running may mitigate the effects of chronic stress and protect the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
The study used a mouse model to examine the effects of stress and exercise on the brain. The mice were divided into groups that either used running wheels (averaging 5 kilometers of running per day) or were stationary during a four-week period. Half of the mice in each group were then exposed to stress, such as swimming through cold water or walking on an elevated platform. After the mice experienced stress, the authors of the study used electrophysiology to measure long-term potentiation (LTP) in the brains of the mice. LPT is a process of synaptic strengthening that leads to optimal memory formation, and chronic stress is known to decrease LPT.
The results showed that mice who experienced stress who had been running showed significantly greater LPT than stressed mice who had not been running. Furthermore, stressed mice in the running group performed just as well as non-stressed mice in the running group in a maze that tested their memories. Mice in the running groups also made significantly fewer errors in the maze than mice in the stationary groups.
The authors noted that the optimal conditions for improving memory and learning are to exercise and not experience any stress. However, their results show that the negative effects of stress can be negated by exercising regularly, particularly by running. Exercise, in addition to its positive effects on the brain, is a key component of heart health and overall wellbeing. The American heart Association lists exercise as an essential factor in heart health, and regularly running will likely lead to improvements in both heart and brain health.