Solo Running Bad for Brain?!

April 28, 2008 at 5:25 am 2 comments

Solo runnerFrom researchers at Princeton University: Running by yourself could be bad for your brain. Or at least, not as good as running with a group.

According to an article in the journal Nature Neuroscience, as reported by the BBC, exercise can have “negative effects on activity in the brain… Running is known to increase levels of stress hormone corticosterone, which can reduce the creation of new brain cells – a process known as neurogenesis.”

But wait, right?! Isn’t exercise good for the brain? Doesn’t physical activity promote neurogenesis?

Here’s where things can get a bit complicated.

Yes, exercise “has been found to increase spatial awareness and to boost communication between neurons.”

But… Only (or at least, especially) if exercise is done with others. Or if done for a really long time. Here’s the rundown on this study (no pun intended):

The researchers at Princeton looked at rats that ran in groups and rats that ran in social isolation. In both groups, “running caused similar elevations of the stress hormone, which can impair neuron generation.”

However, “running was found to increase neuron generation when rats were housed in groups. In rats that ran in social isolation, neurogenesis was suppressed.”

So even though running increased stress on the brain, which can impair neuron generation, group running “increase[d] spatial awareness and boost[ed] communication between neurons.” Running is stressful for the brain, but the social aspect of group running produced more good things for the brain than it hurts.

The rats that ran in isolation, however, experienced no such gain. “Only animals that ran alone were vulnerable to its negative influence. They also had higher levels of the hormone compared to group runners.”

So running alone could be bad for the brain. Unless…

Unless you go for a really long run. “When isolated rats ran for a long time, they did see the same benefits as their short-term runner peers [who ran in groups] – but only when they had been running for a much longer period.”

The Princeton research team was led by Dr. Elizabeth Gould. In their article, “Social isolation delays the positive effects of running on adult neurogenesis” (aka “The Stress of Running Alone” article), in the journal Nature Neuroscience, she explained, “In the absence of social interaction, a normally beneficial experience can exert a potentially deleterious influence on the brain.”

So what to do? Grab a friend and hit the trails. Or, if going solo, go long. Real long.

Fascinating research. It’s enough to make you…

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood


Entry filed under: play, think. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Barefoot Ted  |  January 12, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Or, run with your dogs!


  • 2. wowMan  |  May 22, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Wow, whoever wrote this is really quite stupid. Running actually decreases the stress hormone. The stress hormone is known to inhibit cell growth. This allows growth of brain cells in the hippocampus that is responsible for memory and learning. Search the internet if you don’t believe it.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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