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Alert: Long Distance Running Can Make Your Brain Shrink, Study Finds

Alert: Long Distance Running Can Make Your Brain Shrink, Study Finds

Studies on short-term exercise tell us that exercise leads to increased neurogenesis (growth of brain cells) and improved mental performance. Yet, Dr Shütz and his team from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the University Hospital of Ulm in Germany, recently revealed some controversial findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). Shütz found that the brain volume of the runners of an ultramarathon, had reduced by 6.1% after the race.

Research background

Dr Shütz and his team studied a group of 44 ultramarathon runners participating in the TransEurope-FootRace (TEFR), a 64-day race spanning 4487km (2788 miles) from southern Italy to the Northern Cape of Norway without a single day’s rest. This is like doing around 100 marathons in a row.
They examined the effect of the extreme long distance running on the musculoskeletal system (that is the bones, joints, cartilage, muscles and tendons) but the study also revealed some interesting findings about the brain. “Our research provides detailed information on how the various organ systems change and adapt in response to that stress” says Dr Shütz, describing the goals of the study.

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The researchers scanned the runners’ brains to see how the marathon impacted brain volume.

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Brain scans

    Findings

    At the end of the race, the MRI brain scans revealed a 6.1% decrease in the grey matter (the bulk of the brain) of the runners predominantly affecting specific areas. The scan (image above) taken from the study shows the brain volume decreasing as you follow the dotted lines from left to right, through the different stages of the race. Shütz thinks that the loss of brain volume is due to understimulation. One of the four main regions of the brain that appears to be particularly affected is the area that is involved in visual processing. Shütz postulates that viewing nothing more than long roads for 64 days resulted in that part of the brain being unstimulated hence the reduction in volume. Others believe that the change is due to a concept called structural neuroplasticity. This is where the brain reorganizes and changes itself structurally based on the environment.

    A good example of structural neuroplasticity, comes from a study that found that London taxi drivers have a larger part of the brain involved in navigation than London bus drivers. This makes sense, as taxi drivers have to navigate all around London, while bus drivers are limited to the set route. Their environment has affected the structure of their brains. In the case of the marathon runners, it is suggested that the reorganization in the brain could occur in areas involved in the motivational process and the levels of exertion experienced due to the nature of the race.

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    So, what should you do?

    You don’t have to throw your runners over the power line, just yet. There is no evidence to suggest that running around the park has any impact on brain size, in fact regular exercise may increase brain size. “Although the finding on the loss of grey matter volume while running is astonishing” Dr. Schütz said, “It is not cause for alarm”. Remember, this study was conducted on ultramarathon runners on a nonstop 64-day race.

    As for the brain, “It is hard to explain what’s going on…” Lead researcher, Dr. Schütz told New Scientist. “But we do see total recovery after six months.” So when you’re planning your next ultramarathon, make sure to account for 6 months brain recovery!

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    Featured photo credit: Chanan Greenblatt via unsplash.com

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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