People do a variety of things to get rid of stress, some of which are healthier than others. A new study from Brigham Young University (BYU) finds that running is particularly effective at dealing with chronic stress and protects your memory.
Running alleviates the negative impacts of stress on the hippocampus, a section of the brain that’s in charge of learning and memory, reports EurekAlert.
“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on the memory of chronic stress,” according to study lead author Jeff Edwards, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.
The hippocampus has synapses that intensify over time and enable memory formation. This is known as long-term potentiation (LTP). When a person is chronically stressed, these synapses weaken, LTP drops, and memory is adversely impacted. However, if a person exercises while they’re feeling stressed, LTP levels don’t drop. Instead, they remain normal.
Edwards conducted his research using mice. One group ran on running wheels over a four-week period. The other group did not exercise. Half of each group were then subjected to stressful events such as walking on an elevated platform or swimming in cold water. Edwards’ team then analyzed the LTP by performing electrophysiology experiments on the mice’s brains.
Stressed mice who ran had much greater LTP than their counterparts who did not exercise. In fact, stressed mice who exercised did just as well in a maze-running experiment that tested their memory as non-stressed mice. The researchers also found that the mice who exercised had fewer memory mistakes than sedentary mice.
The findings show that running is a good way to combat the adverse effects of chronic stress and its impact on the brain.
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” Edwards said. “Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”
The study was published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
And in case you didn’t know, protecting memory under stress isn’t the only thing running can do for you. It helps you burn calories and get fit, strengthens your bones and joints, keeps you mentally alert, helps prevent cancer, and helps you live longer.