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Jogging May Make You Smarter

Running may give the brain a workout. A new study finds that individuals consistently scored higher on intellectual tests after embarking on a running program.

"These improvements, however, went down when the joggers stopped their training, which suggests that ongoing exercise is required to maintain the benefit," said Dr. Kisou Kubota of Nihon Fukushi University in Handa, Japan. The findings were presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2001.

Recent studies have suggested that exercise benefits both brawn and brain. Researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, recently reported that seniors who embarked on a 4-month exercise program showed significant improvement in memory and other mental skills, also known as cognitive function. Other studies have shown that regular workouts can help fight depression, as well.

In their study, Kubota's team had seven healthy young people initiate a jogging regimen consisting of running for 30 minutes, two to three times a week for at least 12 weeks. Each of the runners also took a series of complex computer-based tests, to compare memory skills before and after the 3-month jogging program.

After 12 weeks of jogging, scores on all of the tests "significantly increased" in the runners, as did their reaction times in completing the tests. "These tests showed that joggers had a clear improvement in prefrontal function," Kubota said.

Exactly how exercise might strengthen mental sharpness is unclear, but previous research suggests that maintaining a healthy flow of blood and oxygen protects the brain. The Japanese researchers note that oxygen intake rose along with joggers' test scores.

The findings could have implications for the elderly, as well. Dr. Kubota said the research may someday help doctors "find a way to use exercise and running to help aged people and those with Alzheimer's Disease" improve their cognitive function.