Endurance runners are known for having two things: muscular quads and powerful lungs. But long distance running will do so much more for your body—and mind—than you ever thought possible. Most recently, researchers in Finland found long distance runners are better learners.
In the study, researchers observed the effects of sustained running, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and resistance training on adult rat brains. Now, before we lose you with the sciency brain talk, the scientists already knew that aerobic exercise positively effects brain structure and function, specifically when it comes to the growth of neurons in the brain. What they didn't know was whether HIIT or anaerobic resistance training would have a similar effect.
The researchers used rats with a genetically high response to aerobic training as well as those with a low response to aerobic training, Both groups were put through an exercise training period of 6 to 8 weeks, in which they were urged to run, or complete HIIT or resistance training workouts; the control rats remained sedentary.
Ultimately, the rats that ran sustained long distances and also had a genetic predisposition to benefit from aerobic exercise had 2-3 times more new hippocampal neurons at the end of the experiment compared to sedentary rats that ran voluntarily on a running wheel. (Resistance training, on the other hand, had no such effect. And the effects of HIIT were minor.) Luckily, the researchers say these results translate to humans, too.
Why should you care? New hippocampal neurons are crucial for learning (think: A second language, a new skill at work, even how to do a new exercise!).
Read on for four more strange, but incredible health perks enjoyed by those who run really, really far.