How Endurance Running Made Us Smarter

Ever notice that after you run, especially after a long hard run, you have more mental clarity? There’s a good reason for this. Running makes you more focused and ready to learn.

We now know that our ancestors ran barefoot for millions of years, but did you know that all this endurance running accelerated our brain development, leading to a more intelligent brain? The human species become really smart really fast and I believe our ability to run long distances played a huge role in shaping the smart brain we have today.

How Endurance Running Made Us Smarter
Running doesn’t just make you physically fitter, it makes you mentally fitter.

How Endurance Running Made Us Smarter

Endurance running shaped the human form and great things began to happen to our ancestors soon after they became endurance runners. Our ancestors became smarter thanks to the neurological benefits of endurance running and meat.

When our ancestors became endurance runners, they ran after meat and ate more and more of it and began to develop a smarter, more efficient brain.

  • meat, a great source of energy, has many neuroprotective  properties
  • endurance running enhances brain function by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus
  • neurogenesis is new neuronal cell growth in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that forms new long-term memories

Endurance running promotes neurogenesis by activating a protein called brain derived neurotraphic factor (BDNF) -scientists refer to this as brain cell fertilizer.

To get smarter and enhance memory formation, you want lots of BDNF pumping through the brain.

The neurobiological benefits of endurance running coupled with eating nutritiously rich meat, triggered large-scale changes in the brain of our ancestors.

Such neurological changes included strengthened neural connectivities to promote a smarter brain. Humans became smarter at one point in evolution, maybe it began with endurance running?

Another thing you should love about running is that in addition to making us smarter, it also reduces the mental health burdens of stress and depression.

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Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

1 Comment

  1. Hi

    This is the first time I have read an article in Run Forefoot. I am a beginner when it comes to running. But when I read this article I was fascinated with the idea of humans becoming smarter because of endurance running. I would like to read studies published which support this idea. Can you direct me to such studies?

    Thank you

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