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

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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

    How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

    Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

    If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

    1. Breathe

    The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

    • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
    • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
    • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

    Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

    2. Loosen up

    After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

    Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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    3. Chew slowly

    Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

    Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

    Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

    4. Let go

    Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

    The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

    It’s not. Promise.

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    Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

    Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

    21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

    5. Enjoy the journey

    Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

    Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

    6. Look at the big picture

    The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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    Will this matter to me…

    • Next week?
    • Next month?
    • Next year?
    • In 10 years?

    Hint: No, it won’t.

    I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

    Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

    7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

    You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

    Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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    8. Practice patience every day

    Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

    • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
    • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
    • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

    Final thoughts

    Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

    Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

    Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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