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Forget toning your abs – exercise beefs up your brain

Regular exercise is not just good for your waistline – it flexes your brain as well.

That is according to a new study by the National Institutes of Health, which found running once a day has a transformative effect on cognitive health.

Examining mice, the researchers found it took just one week of running on a wheel to see a difference.

Those that ran had far more new neurons (brain connections) than those that didn’t, making their reactions sharper and their memory better.

Experts say the findings should be a red flag to gym-haters: while you may wait until the scales start to creep up, you should perhaps consider the silent benefits of a workout.

A new study by the National Institutes of Health shows going on a regular jog grows brain connections. Lab mice experienced tangible changes after just a week of running (file image)

‘I think it is a very good idea for the sake of the brain to be moving and active,’ Dr Henriette van Praag, lead author of the study, said.

For the study, published in Scientific Reports, Dr van Praag and colleagues split mice into two groups: a sedentary group and an active group. 

They routinely analyzed brain tissue of the active group, which spent a week with a running wheel. They did the same for the group which had no exercise apparatus. 

The results were stark. 

Speaking to the New York Times, Dr van Praag said the study further highlights how beneficial running is as a physical activity. 

She said it ‘provides more pieces of evidence that brain cells produced under running conditions are not just quantitatively but qualitatively different’ compared to other neurons. 

The study is the latest of many from Dr van Praag and colleagues showing the benefits of running on the brain. 

In 2012, she collaborated on a study with the University of Kentucky which found fitter people have bigger brains and better memories, since exercise stimulates connections in the brain. 

Last year, her research team got lab mice to swim in a water maze. They found those who swam the most, exerting themselves physically, grew the most brain connections.