When we think about running, we often think about physical benefits to our fitness and cardiovascular health, but new research from the University of Michigan suggests that running could also help your left brain and right brain communicate better.
The study of rats and mice, which was recently published in Cell Reports, found that there is a fast rhythm linking the left and right halves of the brain. The researchers call these rhythms “splines” because they look like interlocking teeth on mechanical gears (AKA mechanical splines). This fast brain rhythm can help your left brain and right brain communicate better when you run faster (similarly, the researchers also found this brain rhythm when you dream).
Omar Ahmed, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study, explains how the discovery of these “splines” may unlock a new understanding of how the left and right brain communicate with each other.
“Previously identified brain rhythms are akin to the left brain and right brain participating in synchronized swimming: The two halves of the brain try to do the same thing at the exact same time,” Ahmed said in a release.
“Spline rhythms, on the other hand, are like the left and right brains playing a game of very fast — and very precise — pingpong. This back-and-forth game of neural pingpong represents a fundamentally different way for the left brain and right brain to talk to each other.”
These splines may function better when we do things like run faster.
“These spline brain rhythms are faster than all other healthy, awake brain rhythms,” study first author Megha Ghosh, doctoral student in psychology, said in the release. “Splines also get stronger and even more precise when running faster. This is likely to help the left brain and right brain compute more cohesively and rapidly when an animal is moving faster and needs to make faster decisions.”
Beyond running, Ahmed also notes that splines also occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — AKA when we’re dreaming.
“Surprisingly, this back-and-forth communication is even stronger during dream-like sleep than it is when animals are awake and running,” Ahmed said. “This means that splines play a critical role in coordinating information during sleep, perhaps helping to solidify awake experiences into enhanced long-term memories during this dream-like state.”
While there’s likely more research to be done on the topic, this sounds like good news for avid runners — and gives us all another reason to practice getting more sleep.