I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a funk, I tend to put my head down and dig myself in deeper. For example, if I’m having trouble focusing at work, I try to force myself to finish the task at hand, rather than getting up to clear my head with a walk or a few minutes of yoga. When I’m feeling grouchy, the last thing I want to do is exercise — even though I know that getting my heart pumping and those endorphins flowing will make me feel better. Exercising for long enough to make a difference always sounds like a chore. Who has time to stop what they’re doing and work up a sweat? It turns out, most of us do. A recent study found that running for 10 minutes gives your brain a boost, improving executive functioning and the ability to feel pleasure.
Running and Your Brain
The small-scale study, which involved just 26 participants and was conducted at the University of Tsukuba in Japan and published in Scientific Reports last November, looked at the effects of running for 10 minutes on a treadmill. Participants self-reported their moods using the Two-Dimensional Mood Scale before and after running.
The results? Two of the study’s authors, Chorphaka Damrongthai and Hideaki Soya, told Medical News Today that they were “surprised” to find that running for 10 minutes “enhances not only executive function but also pleasant mood coinciding with bilateral prefrontal activation.” (Executive function, in a nutshell, is the ability to plan, think, pay attention, remember instructions, and get things done.)
Scientists think that running — even moderately, and even for a few minutes — helps improve mood and executive functioning in a couple of ways. First, it boosts brain activity by increasing circulation. Running also helps activate the brain’s prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls cognitive functions such as attention, impulsivity, and memory), since it has to process a lot of information when we run. (Think about coordinating footsteps, balance, and breathing.) The up-and-down movement of our head while we run may also activate serotonin receptors in our brains, helping improve our moods even more.
No More Excuses
While this study certainly isn’t conclusive — it was too small, for one thing, and participants gauged their own moods and ability to focus, for another — its findings are encouraging. But unless you’re suffering from an injury or have a condition that makes running dangerous for you, what’s the harm in testing it out?
I usually run in the morning before work, and when I go to bed at night, I do a calculation in my head: Do I have time to run tomorrow? How many hours of sleep can I get and how many miles can I run, once I factor in time to feed the cats and make coffee, change into running clothes, shower afterward, and make myself presentable for the day? All too often, my answer is no, I don’t have time to run. But running for 10 minutes? I always have time for that — and I can even do it on my lunch break.
Knowing that a run doesn’t have to be five miles (or even one mile!) to “count” makes it much more likely that I’ll venture out and get some steps in, even if it’s just 10 minutes of moderate running. That’s enough to lift me out of my funk and get my brain functioning again — so excuse me while I go lace up my running shoes!