Your next race could improve your eye and brain health – here's why - Women's Running

Your next race could improve your eye and brain health – here’s why

Author: Kate Sellers

Read Time:   |  July 5, 2021

New research has given us a great reason to get our next race in the diary

We love running for the joy of running – it’s not all about stats and races. That being said, we also love to have a few races (real or virtual) in the diary to give us something to work towards and feel part of the running community. Now, there’s evidence that training for and participating in regular races could be key to our eye and brain health – we’re already getting our diaries out.

A recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that endurance sports like running can improve both our cognition and vision. Researchers studied 100 marathon runners over a six month period, looking specifically at their cognitive skills and their retinal vasculature (that’s the blood vessels that support our eye function). They looked at these things and how they changed before, immediately after and 12 weeks after running a marathon, as well as comparing them with a sedentary control group.

They found that the marathon runners experienced vascular adaptations that strengthened their whole vascular system. Why is that important? Let’s get into the science.

Having a strong vascular system means that your blood vessels operate more efficiently. That’s beneficial in lots of ways – improved cardio fitness being one of them – but it’s particularly useful when it comes to our brain. Having a good blood flow to the brain is a key indicator of cognitive health.

These vascular adaptations also benefit our eye health. The study found that arteries and veins in the retinal region widen as we run, which immediately offers us sight benefits – ideal if you’re taking on a trail with a view! These advantages lasted for at least 3 hours after exercise was stopped, and regular repetition of this widening effect has been shown to reduce the chances vision difficulties as you age.

Of course, you don’t have to be a marathoner to experience these benefits; other studies done by the same team have seen similar results after shorter stints on the treadmill, for example. But researchers concluded that the key to creating long-term change to eye and brain health was the combination of a consistent training effort with an intense, max effort event (such as a race).

We’re definitely inspired to book some regular races into the next few months. If you’ve not trained for a race before, or just need a simple plan to follow, check out our training plans.

Written by

Kate Sellers

Kate Sellers

Kate is our Senior Digital Executive and a keen runner. She's also a qualified Personal Trainer and yoga teacher, so she knows her stuff about workouts, cross-training and stretching. She loves to combine running and exploring, so you'll often find her testing out the latest kit in exciting locations across the UK and beyond. Kate champions exercising for enjoyment. "Most of the year, you'll find me running for fun and wellbeing," she says. "That being said, I do still love the thrill of training for a race from time to time!"

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