10 minutes of running makes people happier and boosts brain performance

TSUKUBA, Japan — A quick, 10-minute run may be all you need to boost your mood and think more quickly, a recent study reveals.

Scientists in Japan say 10 minutes of moderate intensity running each day increases blood flow to the part of the brain that regulates our mood and ability to carry out complex mental tasks. The findings by a team at the University of Tsukuba may help scientists discover a broader range of treatments and recommendations to help people struggling with their mental health.

To test their hypothesis, they used the Stroop Color-Word test — which measures a person’s ability to process contradictory information — to capture changes in brain activity as participants performed different tasks.

In one task, researchers showed people contradictory information. For example, the word “red” was written in green. Participants had to name the color rather than read out the word. The team measured the so-called “Stroop interference effect” based on the difference in response times between people who did this version of the task compared to another, simpler version.

After 10 minutes of moderate intensity running, the gap in response times narrowed and the part of the brain that regulates mood and thinking (the bilateral prefrontal cortex) became more active during the Stroop task. Participants also reported having a better mood after running.

“This was supported by findings of coincident activations in the prefrontal cortical regions involved in mood regulation,” the study’s first author Chorphaka Damrongthai says in a university release.

The prefrontal cortex is ‘uniquely human’

Previous studies have found exercise lifts our spirits, but most of these reports have focused on cycling. Running has always been important for human well-being and the unique form and exertion it requires displays a close link to the evolutionary success of the human race. However, academics have conducted fewer tests on the effects of running on the part of the brain that regulates mood and executive brain functions.

“Given the extent of executive control required in coordinating balance, movement, and propulsion during running, it is logical that there would be increased neuronal activation in the prefrontal cortex and that other functions in this region would benefit from this increase in brain resources,” study co-author Professor Hideaki Soya says.

The researchers add that, since the prefrontal cortex does not exist in other animals, the findings shed light on how our species evolved.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.