If you are running out of ideas for your New Year's resolution, consider running. Researchers have found that runners show greater functional connectivity in brain regions important for tasks such as planning and decision-making.
"These activities (such as running) that people consider repetitive actually involve many complex cognitive functions -- like planning and decision-making -- that may have effects on the brain," said one of the researchers David Raichlen, Associate Professor at University of Arizona, at Tucson in the United States.
For the study, the researchers compared brain scans of young adults engaged in cross-country running to young adults who do not engage in regular physical activity.
Participants were roughly the same age -- 18 to 25 -- with comparable body mass index and educational levels.
The runners, overall, showed greater functional connectivity -- or connections between distinct brain regions -- within several areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex, which is important for cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making and the ability to switch attention between tasks.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, suggest that running may affect the structure and function of the brain in ways similar to complex tasks like playing a musical instrument.
Since functional connectivity often appears to be altered in ageing adults, and particularly in those with Alzheimer's or other neurodegenerative diseases, it is an important measure to consider, Gene Alexander, Professor at University of Arizona, noted.