A new study from researchers at the University of Arizona shows that running may affect the structure and function of the mind — the activity may actually strengthen connections between brain regions. The study is also significant, researchers said, because it showed these benefits for young people, while most research has focused on the brain benefits of exercise on older adults.

When compared to sedentary individuals, runners showed greater functional connectivity within several areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex. This region is important for planning, decision-making, and the ability to switch attention between tasks.

Read: The Evolution Of The Runner's High: How Endurance Exercise Changes Your Brain

Researchers compared brain scans of young adult cross country runners to young adults who didn't engage in regular physical activity. Participants were roughly the same age — 18 to 25 — with comparable body mass index (BMI) and educational levels.

The MRI scans measured participants’ resting state functional connectivity, which is what’s happening inside the brain while a person is awake, but at rest and not engaging in any specific task.

"One of the things that drove this collaboration was that there has been a recent proliferation of studies, over the last 15 years, that have shown that physical activity and exercise can have a beneficial impact on the brain, but most of that work has been in older adults," co-designer of the study David Raichlen said in a press release from the University of Arizona.

Read: Your Brain On A Runner's High: How Aerobic Exercise Creates New Cells Through Neurogenesis

According to a statement, these findings could help lay the groundwork for future researchers to better understand how exercise affects the brain, particularly in young adults.

Source: Raichlen DA, Bharadwaj PK, Fitzhugh MC, Haws KA, Torre GA, Trouard TP, et al. Differences in Resting State Functional Connectivity between Young Adult Endurance Athletes and Healthy Controls. Frontiers. 2016.

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