Even the average person with no medical training understands that running is healthy. But what are the underlying biological mechanisms that make running so beneficial for human health?

Running benefits different organs and systems in different ways. In particular, the nervous system gets a boost from running in fascinating ways.

Running and Muscle Synergies

Science established definitively the many benefits of running on cardiovascular health, particularly for the prevention of heart attacks or strokes in patients with chronic conditions, as well as running’s benefits for mental health, metabolism, and other bodily processes.

But what about the nervous system? Does running carry benefits for the neuron firing and coordination?

A recent study performed by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong looked at how running interacts with the immune system. They found that, through a process they called “muscle synergy,” the nervous system recalibrate’s itself during the exercise to enhance the ways the various muscles involved in running work together.

This “muscle synergy” serves to both increase the efficiency of the movement (important for conserving energy over long runs like marathons) as well as to optimize the ways the muscles fire to prevent injury from the repetitive and sometimes traumatic impacts of feet pounding pavement.

Running and Movement Ability

The kind of “muscle synergy” seen in the nervous system as a result of running can help athletes move more fluidly and naturally. These improvements derive from the adjustments that the brain makes during exercise to engage muscles in complex movements that might otherwise be uninvolved.

Potential Applications in Other Exercises

Running isn’t the only exercise that is beneficial for the nervous system. The researchers at the Hong Kong University who examined the “muscle synergy” effect of running hypothesized that similar or even greater benefits might be found in other forms of exercise such as ballet or yoga.

These other forms of exercise might carry even greater potential for the nervous system, the researchers explain, because the movements involved in yoga and ballet are much more complex and require even greater adjustment by the nervous system to maintain balance and fluidity.

Given the promising findings of this latest research, more teams from around the world will likely take a greater interest in the topic.