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A new study shows us that the benefits of distance running is all in our heads. Photo: Courtesy of WikiCommons

Scientists have now uncovered how different workouts — running, weight lifting and high-intensity interval training — can impact your brain. If you've always thought a long, meditative run was better for your head than a session in the gym, you’ve guessed right.

Many studies have already shown that exercise, in general, has great capacity to generate new cells in even already-mature brains, but the best workout for brain health has never been identified.

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Although this comparative study, recently published in The Journal of Physiology and reported in The New York Times, was performed with rats, controls and results were such that researchers were confident enough to report that some forms of exercise just plain train the brain better than others.

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While high-intensity gym sessions and weight-based workouts make you strong, they might not be beefing up brain cells. Photo: Courtesy of WikiCommons

The popularity of high-intensity weight-training workouts such as CrossFit might suggest that, much like the workout's dramatic physical results, such rapid bursts of energy could fire up some important synapses in the brain, too.

But the experiment showed that’s not the case: Runner rats — those that jogged regularly on wheels — showed the biggest increase of new brain cells. Measured against sedentary control critters, the boost of new neurons in rats that ran regularly was exceptionally significant. And in this case, more was better. The greater the distance rats covered at a moderate pace, the more brain cells they created.

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On the other hand, neither rats that pumped iron — climbed walls with micro-weights attached to their tails — or performed sprint-and-recover sessions on tiny treadmills to simulate high-intensity workouts showed any impressive brain-cell building.

High-intensity “rathalates” showed more new neurons than the couch-potato rats, but the new brain cells measured far less than those of distance-running rodents. And those gym rats that only weight trained? They stayed dumb jocks, with brain tissue that looked the same as animals that never exercised at all.

The takeaway? Don't give up your favorite weight and intensity workouts altogether. They will keep your body strong. But if you want to beef up your brain, you better start moving more (and more often).

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