MRI scans suggest that endurance runners’ brains may have greater functional connectivity than those in more sedentary individuals.

Functional connectivity is important for cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making, and the ability to switch one’s attention between tasks.

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, was conducted by University of Arizona running expert David Raichlen, an associate professor of anthropology, along with UA psychology professor Gene Alexander, who studies brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease as a member of the UA’s Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.

According to a media release from University of Arizona, Raichlen and Alexander compared the MRI scans of a group of male cross country runners with the scans of young adult males who hadn’t engaged in any kind of organized athletic activity for at least a year. Participants were roughly the same age—18 to 25—with comparable body mass index and educational levels.

The scans measured resting state functional connectivity, or what goes on in the brain while participants are awake but at rest, not engaging in any specific task.

Since functional connectivity often appears to be altered in aging adults, and particularly in those with Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases, it’s an important measure to consider, Alexander said. And what researchers learn from the brains of young adults could have implications for the possible prevention of age-related cognitive decline later on, the release explains.

“One of the key questions that these results raise is whether what we’re seeing in young adults—in terms of the connectivity differences—imparts some benefit later in life,” says Alexander, also a professor of neuroscience and physiological sciences, in the release.

“The areas of the brain where we saw more connectivity in runners are also the areas that are impacted as we age, so it really raises the question of whether being active as a young adult could be potentially beneficial and perhaps afford some resilience against the effects of aging and disease,” Alexander adds.

[Source(s): University of Arizona, Science Daily]