Health & Fitness Running benefits your nervous system — here’s why that’s important
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- According to in the journal Nature Communications, running regularly trains your central nervous system.
- This is important because the nervous system can learn over time to activate your muscles in a manner that produces energetically efficient forms of running.
Regular exercise, like running, has ample benefits for your cardiovascular system, as well as muscle mass and bone density. But that’s not all, a recent study found: You can tone up your nervous system, too.
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Published in the journal Nature Communications, thelooked at 63 healthy participants, ranging from young children to physically inactive older adults. Each volunteer took part in a range of running exercises suited to their activity level, doing either running indoors on a or outdoors. Researchers recorded electrical activity from numerous muscles and the amount of force the body exerted onto the ground. Then, they used a machine learning algorithm to identify the way multiple muscles acted together, called muscle synergies.
What they found is that the nervous system adjusts its commands for running, and that prior running experience actually made a significant difference in these commands, according to study coauthor, assistant professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
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“If you’re training consistently, like for a, you won’t be just improving heart health and mental endurance, but you’ll also be training your central nervous system,” he told Runner’s World. “This is because the human nervous system can learn to activate the muscles in a manner that produces energetically efficient forms of running.”
Muscle synergies can be combined in different ways by the nervous system, he added. The more you run, the more combinations your brain will create, which could improve how well you move. For example, the participants who had been training for years showed more muscle activation and more synergies.
Trying to play around with this as a training tactic will require more research, Cheung said, but if you’re looking to use this knowledge, his advice is to simply keep running.
“It was interesting that the muscle synergies for running changed as subjects trained to run,” he said.
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He also added that previous research has found that these synergies increase with activities that require complex movement, like ballet, but researchers didn’t expect the same reaction with running.
“Before the experiment, we expected the muscle synergies to remain constant through training, and also across the subject groups with different training experiences,” he said. “We were frankly surprised to see that kind of nervous system improvement and efficiency happening.”
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