• Just 10 minutes of moderate-intensity running can create significant enough effects in the brain to improve executive function and mood regulation, new research shows.
  • The reason for this may related to a region of the brain called the bilateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in executive function and mood. Running seems to simulate this area.

Although you might swear by a long run to change a crusty mood, new research suggests you could get that lift even before your first mile is over. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports notes that just 10 minutes of moderate-intensity running can create significant enough effects in the brain to improve executive function (the mental processes that help us plan, pay attention, remember instructions, and balance multiple tasks) and mood regulation.

Researchers recruited 26 healthy participants and had them complete both a 10-minute running session on a treadmill done at 50 percent VO2 max and a resting control session. Executive function and mood were determined using established research tools for each, and were tested before and after both running and resting.

Running resulted in a considerable boost to function and emotional response, according to study lead author Hideaki Soya, Ph.D., professor at the Laboratory of Exercise Biochemistry and Neuroendocrinology at University of Tsukuba in Japan.

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He told Runner’s World that the mechanism is likely related to a region of the brain called the bilateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in executive function and mood. Running seems to simulate this area, he said, and this may induce an immediate change in neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, acetylcholine, and dopamine, which have all been found in previous research to affect cognition and mood regulation.

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While exercise of any type may have an effect, there’s something distinctive about running, Soya added.

“Given that running is a whole-body locomotive exercise, it requires more control for coordinated movement and balance,” he said. “For example, the prefrontal cortex is engaged for coordinated action. That tends to be lower for an activity like bicycling, which doesn’t require as much coordination or weight-bearing demand.”


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Although the study is limited due to its small number of participants, it’s far from the only research to suggest there’s a connection between running and mental health. For instance, a research review that included 116 studies found running improve mood even if it was done only once.

The best takeaway from the recent study isn’t just that 10 minutes will give you a boost, it’s that you can get that even if it’s the very first time you’ve ever run, or if it’s been years or decades since you last ran.

“Our experiments always use minimal exercise models, and this one shows that a single session of 10 minutes makes a difference, whether you run regularly or not,” said Soya. “Based on this assumption, it’s possible there’s a greater effect if you run for longer, especially because it may enhance other parts of the brain.”

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