Note: This post was transferred from a now extinct prior blog entitled “run think smile”. Hence, the reference to these words in the blog title.
While I’ve been contemplating resuming my blogging days for a while now, the prospect of actually writing is surprisingly daunting. I suppose a logical starting place is who I am and why this blog, starting with the title.
I initially set out to write about my experiences as a runner, but soon realized these rants would inevitably lead to tangential commentaries on human cognition and endorphin-driven euphoria. For you runner readers these connections may be obvious. For those who consider running the ultimate expression of sadomasochism, let me elaborate. These three elements – running, thinking and smiling – are inextricably, reciprocally, related. I do my best thinking while running, and have composed countless essays, designed new research paradigms and analyses while on the road. And while running sustains my brain, my brain also sustains my running addiction. Each run takes me on a new, unpredictable mental journey that entertains me for miles on end and keeps me eager to return for more the next day. Running can be the most powerful antidepressant, evidenced by the cheese-ball smile I often discover plastered to my face mid-run.
I’ve been running for over 14 years now, starting with high school track. Over the years the distances have grown longer and the sport has evolved from a simple past-time to a way of life. Those times when sickness, travel or the simple craziness of life has kept me off the roads, it’s felt like life has been put on hold. My energy levels, mental clarity and mood plummet.
While this all may sound a bit extremist, it’s a well-documented natural response to something humans and animal were “born” to do (excuse the McDougall reference). A part of my Neuroscience graduate program is a hypothetical research proposal outside of my primary research focus. While I spend most of my time grappling the mysteries of human memory retrieval, I’ve devoted this side project to understanding the neurobiological effects of running. Much more on this to come later I’m sure, but briefly, running does more than keep you healthy and feeling good. It actually releases similar neurotransmitters and activates similar neural circuits that go haywire in response to chronic drug use … hence the euphoria and addictive nature of running. It causes a host of other fantastic neurobiological changes, including increasing levels of proteins and transcription factors that promote neuronal growth, survival and function (for example, BDNF, delta-FosB and LTP are all increased by running). Remarkably, running also increases the birth and maturation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, an area critical to learning and memory.
I’ve always been a strong believer that we have a fantastic ability to self-treat, if only we listen closely to our body. It’s not all that surprising then that people continually return to running to keep our bodies and minds happy and healthy.