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Why running doesn’t help your brain learn - but this does

Why running doesn't help your brain learn. Source: Getty

If you’ve long needed a good excuse as to why you hate running, Yahoo Finance has found one for you: it doesn’t help your brain learn new things.

Though it’s widely accepted that exercising results in better brain function, not all forms of exercise increase brain plasticity - which is what drives the brain’s development and helps it learn new skills. 

According to new research, running or cycling at full speed without mixing up the tempo elevates the stress hormone cortisol, which blocks all the positive effects that exercise would usually have like releasing endorphins. 

The research by the University of South Australia found that the greatest changes in neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire or modify its neural connections, occurred with 20 minutes of interval training or 25 minutes of continuous moderate aerobic exercise. 

So while you can say goodbye to 30 minute runs, you’ll need to start picking up high intensity interval training (HIIT). 

According to the findings, engaging in HIIT training before work has benefits too.

“Research also shows that exercising before learning a new motor skill can help a person learn it much faster,” PhD student Maddison Mellow said.

Neuroplasticity becomes increasingly important when we age, or when parts of the brain are damaged due to injury or stroke. 

“It [the brain] has many neural pathways that can replicate another’s function so that if the brain is damaged it can re-route signals along a different pathway,” UniSA researcher Ashleigh Smith said. 

“The more elastic the brain, the easier this is.”

I want to increase my productivity. What workouts can I do?

If you don’t care too much about neuroplasticity but you definitely want to increase your productivity, performance strategist Andrew May told Yahoo Finance you should do exercises that stimulate the chemical BDMF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which helps people make decisions.

According to May, a simple way to do this is to start walking. Ideally, you should reach 10,000 steps a day. 

And, you should also integrate weight training into your exercise regime. 

“A lot of the research shows that high-intensity weight training, short duration 20-30 minutes, really does stimulate that BDNF.

“That's why we need people to do a blend of some cardio and definitely most people need to do more strength training.”

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