Runner Gives Birth To Neuron

Running gives birth to neurons (1)

Anyone who’s ever done regular physical exercise, whether that be running or something else, knows how good exercise can make you feel. But did you know that vigorous aerobic exercise actually triggers the birth of new neurons in the brain. And what’s more, to date, vigorous aerobic exercise is the only known trigger for the birth of new neurons!

Vigorous aerobic exercise such as running has been shown to have positive effects on the structure and function of the brain, namely generation of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain important for learning and memory. By vigorous, I don’t mean flat out. You’re looking more at something that makes you puffed without feeling like you can’t continue.

Changes have also been seen in the frontal lobe of the brain of people who have been long term exercisers, with an increase in blood flow to this area. This is the part of the brain which is associated with clarity of thought – stuff like planning ahead, concentration, time management, goal setting and learning. This area is also linked to the regulation of emotion, hence, going for a run just seems to make you feel good.

Aerobic training more effective than HIIT and resistance training

A study by researchers at  the University of Jyväskylä looked at the effect of sustained running exercise, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training on the production of neurons in adult male rats. The study also looked at groups of rats that had either a genetically high response to aerobic training, or a genetically low response to aerobic training. Groups of rats were put on an exercise program for 6-8 weeks, and a control group sat on the couch in their regular cage.

The highest number of new neurons in the hippocampus was found in the rats on the long distance training program, and who also had a genetic predisposition to benefit from aerobic exercise. Compared to the couch potato rats, the runners had 2-3 times more new neurons at the end of the experiment period. The body building group of rats who were put on a resistance training program showed no improvement in neurogenesis, and the HIIT group showed only minor improvement.

Marked cognitive decline in old age is not inevitable

The decline in our ability to think clearly is commonly considered to be a characteristic of aging. But not everyone experiences cognitive decline to the same degree. There are vast individual differences in the ability of the brain to function in old age. Could aerobic exercise be what’s allowing some people to maintain good cognitive function, whilst the brain function of others fades, sometimes dramatically?

A study published in the Journal of Gerontology in Nov 2006 randomly assigned older adults to an aerobic exercise group or a non aerobic exercise control group for six months. The subjects who participated in the exercise program had an increase in both grey and white brain matter mostly located in the regions of the brain which show substantial age-related deterioration ( the prefrontal and temporal cortices)

Neurons  are found in the grey matter of specific brain regions, whilst white matter enables the communication between brain regions. They work together to enhance brain function, so the fact the aerobic exercise benefits both grey and white matter is the main reason it ranks so highly as a way to keep your brain young.

What’s going on inside your noggin to produce these changes?

Scientists at the Harvard Medical School isolated the specific molecule which improves cognitive function and protects against brain degeneration. The molecule, which has been named irisin, is produced in the brain during aerobic exercise through a chain reaction.

Firstly, a molecule called FNDC5 becomes elevated. Irisin is a byproduct of FNDC5. Increasing levels of irisin in the blood forces irsin to cross the blood brain barrier. That then increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  Increasing levels of BDNF stimulates the growth of new neurons.

How much do you need to run to get the benefits?

Firstly, you probably don’t need to run. Any aerobic exercise of a moderate to intense nature will do it. One study conducted by Justin Rhodes at Oregon Health and Science University found that the BDNF concentration in mice increased by up to 171% after 7 nights of wheel running. Initially, the more running, the more BDNF, the greater the neurogenesis.

After a while, Rhodes found that his ultra-marathon mighty mice, who crazily ran all day and all night, eventually were unable to navigate a maze successfully. He found the best performing mice ran two to three miles a night. As they say, “everything in moderation”.

( I’m not sure what that equates to for humans, but in the course of trying to find out, I did discover that “mice miles” refers the amount of time one spends at a computer).

If you’re not already doing some at least moderate aerobic exercise, and you want to improve your thinking power, then start moving. Long easy runs, faster tempo runs, fartlek, interval training will all help to improve your brain power. (Note high intensity interval training -short bursts of all out effort, will do little to improve your cognitive function, but the the sub-maximal efforts more commonly part of a distance running program will)

Why Do You Run?

uplifted 3d figure stuart miles resizedA while ago now I wrote a post entitle “The Value of Fun Runs”. It gave a summary of some of the fun runs around Sydney, their entry fee, and cost per km and a short summary of the good bits and not so good bits of each run.

Impossible to quantify in dollar terms, of course, is the overall sense of well being running in an event such as yesterday’s “Sydney Running Festival” (or the Bridge Run as the festival is more commonly referred to).

What price do you put on being able to run across Sydney’s iconic harbour bridge on a fabulous sunny morning-not too hot(unless you’re finishing the marathon at midday), sun sparkling on the water, surrounded by friends, or at least like minded people. It’s mornings like this that serve to remind you of why you run. Simply put, it makes you feel good.


From our youngest runner, to our oldest, from our novices to our experienced runners, all felt uplifted after the race. I’m not trying to turn a simple run across the Harbour Bridge into some kind of religious experience, but running in a run such as this certainly is something to remember.


Some of the comments I heard from our runners after the race will give you a sense of what I’m talking about.


  •  “I wasn’t going to stop running because I really wanted to know I could do it” from 6 year old Saxon
  • “That’s the furthest I’ve run. Ever!” 11 year old Luca
  • Dav and I heard there was 100m to go and we just bolted. You should have seen how fast our legs were goingD” 9 year old Wilson
  • “I’m wearing my number like a badge of honour” one of our nearly 50 year old first time fun runners.
  • “It was a spectacular day to be running across the bridge this morning” Bernice – another of our soon to be 50 year old runners
  • “That was awesome” – just some random person I heard in the recovery village
  • “Just going to brag about my 29 year old” from a friend of mine texting me about her son’s first marathon.
  • “Yay me” from Tara, after her first half marathon


No need for me to say any more, really, but I’d love to hear your comments on why you run.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

End of Year Resolutions

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We are in the final 4 months of 2013. Have your New Years’ fitness resolutions gone to plan? If not, should you give up your goal of improving your health and fitness this year, grow bitter and curse the powers that be for making it so hard for you to get fit and be healthy?

Or should you take responsibility for your situation and make changes?


Read and act.

Seek motivation; don’t wait for it to fall into your lap.

From time to time I have people say to me something along the lines of, “it’s easy for you, you’re so motivated” or “it’s easy for you, you’re so fit” or “I wish I could be as motivated as you are”.

Well, here’s the thing. Firstly, it’s not always easy for me, and I’m not always highly motivated. My energy levels wax and wane. When my energy is low, I keep going because I know that if I just keep chipping away, sooner or later the tables will turn, my energy levels will pick up, and I’ll  be ready to go. I don’t leap out of bed and think YIPPEE I’m going for a run every morning, but I do keep trying to do something pretty much every day. And that doesn’t always pan out.

Secondly, it hasn’t always been easy for people who are fit. Most people have had periods in their lives when their fitness levels have dropped and they have had to summon the motivation to get back into it, and I’m certainly one of them. That’s when a goal and a well thought out plan can make all the difference. You need a plan that will push you enough to get you fitter, but not push you so much that you overdo it and injure yourself. If you’re not sure about planning your training, seek help. You’ll be surprised how easy it all becomes if you have a plan set out before you in black and white.


Anyone can be motivated.

Motivation is not something reserved for people who are fitter than you, or “better” than you. Motivation is not something that descends from on high. Motivation is something that you need to learn how to use. I’m not highly “motivated” to cook dinner, clean my house, have a shower every day, clean my teeth every day, do the washing, do any number of mundane and boring things that I do each and every day, but I still do them. Sometimes, that’s just the way with exercise. It’s just got to be something that you do. Without thinking about it. Automatically. Then when the endorphins kick in, you’ll be unstoppable!


So how do you “just do it” when you really don’t feel like doing it?

  • Take action today.  Not some time next week, not tomorrow, TAKE ACTION TODAY. Even if it is just a little tiny step towards where you want to be, TAKE ACTION TODAY. Set out a training plan for the next month, enlist a friend to exercise with, resolve to get up 10 minutes earlier every day this week and do some simple body weight exercises at home like sit ups, push ups, squats and dips, all of which can be done in your own bedroom.
  • Set yourself a goal. Specify it, by writing it down. Make it Realistic. Make sure you can Measure whether or not you hit that goal, make it Achievable, make it Rewarding, and make it Time limited. Yes, that’s right, make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It might not be what you first set out to achieve at the beginning of the year, but that’s OK. There’s no rule against reassessing your goals.
  • Once you’ve set out one or two main fitness goals for the rest of the year, take some time to plan how you’ll reach this goal. And remember, keep it realistic. If you’ve never run before, perhaps planning for a 5km fun run before the end of the year will take your fancy. Far enough to be a challenge, but short enough to be very achievable. Just pick out a run, and “go for it”.  “Go for it” setting out a training plan so that you know precisely what training you’ll be doing and when you’ll be doing it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, enlist help.
  • Set out your reasons for doing it; write down why you want to achieve your goal. I’ve got a few reasons to exercise, but the main one is I like how it makes me feel. I like feeling strong, I like knowing I can run for a couple of hours without conking out! I guess it gives me a sense of power. There are lots of other reasons, but I reckon that’s my main one. Yours may be different. Whatever the reasons, write them down, and stick them up where you can see them. Right next to your alarm clock would be a great place!
  • Bust your own excuses. Don’t let excuses keep you on the couch. Stuff like “I can’t because”, “I don’t know how” “I don’t know how” “I could if….” are all excuses. Catch yourself when you make excuses that are preventing you from being as fit and healthy as you’d like to be. When you do catch yourself, ask yourself these questions: What is the truth? What do I want? What action can I take? (If you’re anything like me, the truth is you don’t want to finish the year fatter then when you started).


Let’s be very clear about this.


Your feet aren’t going to get up and start running all by themselves, are they?

You need to make a decision to act.

If you need help, remember that’s what we are here for.

You just need to ask for it.


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Running Aids Brain Growth

Recent headlines suggested scientists had “discovered” that exercise was good for the brain, however the recent study out of Cambridge University and the US National Institute on Aging is just part of a growing body of work on the subject.


Of course, our clients have been telling us for years that exercise makes them feel better mentally, from simply making them feel more alert, to increasing their sense of well being, making them nicer people to live with, and helping to keep depression in check.


This SMH article, Brain Cell Secrets Explored,  is reproduced in it’s entirety below.


THE health benefits of a regular run have long been known, but scientists have never understood the curious ability of exercise to boost brain power.

Now researchers think they have the answer. Neuroscientists at CambridgeUniversity have shown that running stimulates the brain to grow fresh grey matter and it has a big effect on mental ability.

A few days of running led to the growth of hundreds of thousands of brain cells that improved the ability to recall memories without confusing them, a skill that is crucial for learning and other cognitive tasks, researchers said.

The new brain cells appeared in a region that is linked to the formation and recollection of memory. The work reveals why jogging and other aerobic exercise can improve memory and learning, and potentially slow down the deterioration of mental ability in old age.

The research builds on a body of work that suggests exercise plays a vital role in keeping the brain healthy by encouraging the growth of brain cells. Previous studies have shown ”neurogenesis” is limited in people with depression, but that their symptoms can improve if they exercise regularly.

Scientists are unsure why exercise triggers the growth of grey matter, but it may be linked to increased blood flow or higher levels of hormones that are released while exercising. Exercise might also reduce stress, which inhibits new brain cells through a hormone called cortisol.

The Cambridge researchers joined forces with colleagues at the US National Institute on Ageing inMarylandto investigate the effect of running.

They studied two groups of mice, one of which had unlimited access to a running wheel throughout. The other mice formed a control group.

After training sessions the mice in the exercising group scored almost twice as highly as the other mice in a repeated memory test for a sugar reward, a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said. The sedentary mice got steadily worse at the test.