In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of scientists at the University of Tsukuba in Japan aimed to determine the acute effect of a single bout of running on mood, executive function and neural substrates in the prefrontal cortex.
Twenty-six participants completed both a 10-minute running session on a treadmill at “the most popular running condition” and a resting control session in randomized order.
The authors assessed executive function using Stroop interference time from the color-word matching Stroop task and mood using the Two-Dimensional Mood Scale questionnaire before and after both sessions.
Prefrontal hemodynamic changes – or blood flow changes – while performing the Stroop task were investigated using functional near-infrared spectroscopy.
They concluded that running resulted in significant enhanced arousal and pleasure levels compared to the control and caused a significantly greater reduction of Stroop interference time and increase in oxygen-hemoglobin brain signals in bilateral prefrontal cortexes.
Additionally, the researchers found a “significant association” among pleasure level, Stroop interference reaction time and the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes – which they note are “important brain loci” for mood regulation and inhibitory control.
“To our knowledge, an acute moderate-intensity running has the beneficial of inducing a positive mood and enhancing executive function coinciding with cortical activation in the prefrontal subregions involved in inhibitory control and mood regulation,” the authors said. “These results together with previous findings with pedaling imply the specificity of moderate running benefits promoting both cognition and pleasant mood.”
They also noted that neural mechanisms for running-elicited cortical activation have remained unclear and that specific features of running may benefit brain activation by enhancing blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral artery.
Co-authors Chorphaka Damrongthai and professor Hideaki Soya told Medical News Today on Monday that they were “surprised” by the results.
The publication noted that almost all previous studies had used pedaling instead of running.
“Running may stimulate the prefrontal cortex more broadly to benefit mood and executive function than other forms of exercise that do not require as much coordination of weight-bearing activity, such as pedaling,” the pair said in a statement.
Medical News Today highlighted potential study limitations, including its small scale and that the mood scale is self-reported.