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Why Running Is So Smart

The same protein that helps you run faster also makes you smarter.

What do marathoners and geniuses have in common? According to scientists, they share a serious amount of a protein called estrogen-related receptor gamma (ERRg).

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You’re not alone if you’ve got no idea what that is. But, it’s a pretty important commodity apparently: ERRg is what helps fuel your muscles for long, hard runs—and per a recent study, also fuels your brain (so you can form memories and learn new things faster, for example.)

But even though your muscles and brain are getting this energy surge from the same source—the process is different. In your muscles, ERRg burns fat; In your brain, it burns sugar.

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After discovering back in 2011 that this protein, when given to mice, could double their running capacity (!), scientists went back to see how it effected the brain. In the new study, mice without ERRg learned more slowly and forgot things more easily (like how to get out of a maze) than those who were pumped up with the stuff. Similarly, without ERRg, you couldn’t run as fast or for as long.

So, it would follow that increasing production of this protein could help you become a better runner—and a better learner. And though researchers are still trying to understand more about the ERRg protein and its function, it has been shown that running on a treadmill increases muscle ERRg expression in animals at least, says study author Liming Pei, Ph.D. “I won't be surprised if this is true in humans as well,” says Pei. 

But with all of the other proven benefits of running, there’s no need to wait for proof. You'll defintiely torch fat and calories, and maybe even get a little smarter to boot.


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