Running sharpens memory, offsets damage to brain from chronic stress

PROVO, Utah — Those brand-new running shoes may set you back a hundred bucks, but it might be worth it after all, according to a new study. It turns out that running regularly is not only good for the heart and lungs (albeit rough at times on the knees), it also helps the brain preserve memory even when it’s under attack by chronic stress.

When your body activates its stress mechanisms to deal with potentially threatening situations, it sacrifices functions in other systems to create a fast response. Chronic or prolonged stress has worse effects over time. One of those negative effects, doctors say, is the weakening of the synapses — or the electrical connections between neurons in the brain — in the hippocampus, where the brain forms memories and learning recall functions.

Woman jogging
A new study finds that jogging is not only good for the heart and lungs, it also helps the brain preserve memory when it’s under attack by chronic stress.

In ideal conditions, these synapses are strengthened over time in a process called long-term potentiation (LTP), allowing people to remember things more clearly. Chronic stress stunts LTP, which eventually leads to memory problems. Researchers at Brigham Young University found that concurrent exercise seems to offset the effects on LTP from chronic stress.

“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” says Jeff Edwards, associate professor of developmental biology, in a news release.

Edwards and his team studied mice to see how their LTP was affected by exercise and stress. During a four-week trial, the researchers compared LTP in mice that exercised regularly on running wheels to sedentary mice, while exposing some of each group to stressful situations (walking in cold water or on elevated objects). Edwards and his team found that the stressed mice that got exercise had significantly greater LTP than the sedentary ones. Not surprisingly, the healthier mice also made far fewer memory errors on a maze running experiment, and performed as well as non-stressed rodents.

“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” says Edwards. “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 March 2018 edition of the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.


  1. “Running sharpens memory, offsets damage to brain from chronic stress.” Well, Mr. Renner, tell that to my 22 year old nephew who just underwent surgery last month on his legs to alleviate severe pain from compartment syndrome that was found to be caused from jogging every day for nearly 4 years!
    Sure, moderate exercise is good but some people can overdo it and end up wearing out and/or causing more damage to their bodies than the purported benefits are worth.

    1. Disagree. Been running 35 years and have had 4 knee operations. I don’t regret it one bit. 60 years old and sharp as a tack. If I didn’t run I’d be dead from stress by now.

      1. Same age, no knee operations but I had to stop running for two months as my knees hurt. Changed my running to avoid trails, no more knee issues. Not too far off my college times either as I do 5:40 miles in the 5k.

    2. You aren’t raining on Mr. Renner’s parade at all. This study just confirms common sense. Your 22 year old nephew shouldn’t be jogging every day because of his medical condition. He is an outlier. Exercise helps the mind and body. Everyone with common sense knows this.

  2. Studies either confirm common sense or they are wrong! This study happens to be right because it’s so obvious! I wonder how people got wisdom before there were studies? I have a feeling it was common sense!

    1. Nonsense. There is a wellspring of common sense and anecdotal knowledge that is false. The notion, that without verification, one can simply intuitively know truth, is most likely promoted by those too lazy to educate themselves on the subject under consideration.

  3. As a physician I get the biggest kick over these studies…
    And just like Hollywood…this study offers nothing new or innovative…
    Said another way…
    HEY RESEARCHERS – we’ve known since the 60s what your inane study “concluded”…

  4. I jogged about 3 miles a day on sidewalks for about 25 years, starting in the 80s, during the craze. I loved the runners high, slim body, and the relief of stress, it provided. I had 3 knee surgeries for meniscus repairs and kept running.

    Now at 70 years old, both my knees need replacing. I live with the pain because I have a heart condition that would make these surgeries risky.

    I weighed 220 lbs when jogging and I’m sure that took its toll but back then I didn’t comprehend the damage I was inflicting, until it was too late.

    Now I’m sedentary and taking lots of meds for my heart, BP, cholesterol, etc. A few years ago, I began taking pain meds and recently, after family tragedies, I began drinking, to cope. I know I’m in a mess but I don’t have the will and courage to seek rehab.

    Hey y’all, I don’t want a pity party. I just felt the need to chime in with my story.

    IMO, jogging can still be great if you aren’t heavily built and try to run run on a soft surface, like grass. I want to say that you might consider walking, biking or other great exercises to preserve your precious knee cartilage.

    1. pick..I hope that you can get things straightened around. I, too, am a big guy. I hit my adult minimum of 220lbs when I was running. I did it for 2-3 years, before sustaining a bad big toe – arthritis. I had surgery on it and gave up the running. Cycling (or swimming) is a great alternative and easy on the joints. I do it daily and can go up to ~60 miles, at high speed. It is fabulous for burning calories and keeping your joints loose. I started on a hybrid bike and then moved to largely road cycling. You can start slow and short and build on it. I see lots of 70 yr olds when I cycle in Florida.

      Don’t give up. You seem headed in a bad direction but with swimming, cycling, or even walking, you can turn it around. I hope you will try, as you can do it. Your blood chemistry will tun around as well. Good luck, my friend.

    2. My story is almost identical. Yup…also 70. After my knee surgeries I turned to mountain biking, but after a few years I felt my knees were as good as new so turned to power walking in the desert. Realized that if you push it, it’s as good a cardio as running but no hard impact like running. Don’t give up my friend. Life is about picking yourself up and starting over.

  5. If you cannot get out of doors: Do an internet search for:
    CANADIAN 5BX exercise plan is available — can look, download.

    It is EASY exercising for wimps (like me) — that can be done in a 4 ft X 8 ft amount of space.
    Try it Mikey – you’ll like it.
    TAKE A LOOK AT IT!!!!!!!!!!

  6. so if i run more and faster i should become a lot more intelligent. brilliant even. watch out stephen hawking.

  7. Been running since high school and am now 54. Never had issues with knees or anthying but did pull a hamstring in my 20’s but that was from sprinting.
    If you have no orthopeadic reason not to jog/ run it wont hurt you and may even help you keep strong cartilage, etc. If you have pain, running may not be for you . If you over train, you’re asking for trouble. Listen to you body, if all feels well, run/jog. Do it 3 to 5 times per week depending how you tolerate it as you age. Common sense says youll need to go a tad slower and shorter as you get older. If not find another type of aerobic workout to reap the benefits in will give.
    Also buy good shoes. It’s worth in IHMO.

  8. Nice, and experientially I confirm running is a great stress release. Yet, and this is a big yet, where do you get the idea that running is bad for the knees? I’ve heard this numerous times and never seen any studies or other confirmation of this.

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