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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 May 15, 2019

    How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

    How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

    As it appears, the human mind is not capable of not thinking, at least on the subconscious level. Our mind is always occupied by thoughts, whether we want to or not, and they influence our every action.

    “Happiness cannot come from without, it comes from within.” – Helen Keller

    When we are still children, our thoughts seem to be purely positive. Have you ever been around a 4-year old who doesn’t like a painting he or she drew? I haven’t. Instead, I see glee, exciting and pride in children’s eyes. But as the years go by, we clutter our mind with doubts, fears and self-deprecating thoughts.

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    Just imagine then how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power! We’ll never go after that job we’ve always wanted because our nay-saying thoughts make us doubt our abilities. We’ll never ask that person we like out on a date because we always think we’re not good enough.

    We’ll never risk quitting our job in order to pursue the life and the work of our dreams because we can’t get over our mental barrier that insists we’re too weak, too unimportant and too dumb. We’ll never lose those pounds that risk our health because we believe we’re not capable of pushing our limits. We’ll never be able to fully see our inner potential because we simply don’t dare to question the voices in our head.

    But enough is enough! It’s time to stop these limiting beliefs and come to a place of sanity, love and excitement about life, work and ourselves.

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    So…how exactly are we to achieve that?

    It’s not as hard as it may seem; you just have to practice, practice, practice. Here are a few ideas on how you can get started.

    1. Learn to substitute every negative thought with a positive one.

    Every time a negative thought crawls into your mind, replace it with a positive thought. It’s just like someone writes a phrase you don’t like on a blackboard and then you get up, erase it and write something much more to your liking.

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    2. See the positive side of every situation, even when you are surrounded by pure negativity.

    This one is a bit harder to put into practice, which does not mean it’s impossible.

    You can find positivity in everything by mentally holding on to something positive, whether this be family, friends, your faith, nature, someone’s sparkling eyes or whatever other glimmer of beauty. If you seek it, you will find it.

    3. At least once a day, take a moment and think of 5 things you are grateful for.

    This will lighten your mood and give you some perspective of what is really important in life and how many blessings surround you already.

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    4. Change the mental images you allow to enter your mind.

    How you see yourself and your surroundings make a huge difference to your thinking. It is like watching a DVD that saddens and frustrates you, completely pulling you down. Eject that old DVD, throw it away and insert a new, better, more hopeful one instead.

    So, instead of dwelling on dark, negative thoughts, consciously build and focus on positive, light and colorful images, thoughts and situations in your mind a few times a day.

    If you are persistent and keep on working on yourself, your mind will automatically reject its negative thoughts and welcome the positive ones.

    And remember: You are (or will become) what you think you are. This is reason enough to be proactive about whatever is going on in your head.

    Featured photo credit: Kyaw Tun via unsplash.com

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