A new study indicates that runners who compete in ultra-marathons temporarily experience a shrinking of their brains after completing the long runs. The incredibly long races are said to have several major impacts on the human body.

Researchers studied runners in the Trans-Europe Footrace in order to see what kind of physical benefits and detriments they experienced. The Trans-Europe Footrace covers 2,788 over the duration of 64 days, which represents an average of more than 43.5 miles per day. The event takes the runners from southern Italy to Norway. Obviously, this grueling race results in some major changes to the human body. However, not all of these changes were expected.

A total of 44 runners in the race were studied using MRI machines. The athletes had their joints, limbs and organs studied. Last week, their findings were reported at the annual meeting for the Radiological Society of North America.

After the runners had traveled more than 1,500 miles, the researchers noticed that the cartilage the normally cushions joints was starting to break down. However, this cartilage would quickly rebuild, even without sufficient rest.

Additionally, 13 of the runners agreed to be studied in greater detail. It was found that all 13 of these runners had lost brain volume during the race. But it wasn’t entirely bad, as all of the runners had their brain mass return to normal about eight months after the race. A similar study from several years ago found that ultra-marathoners lose about 6% of their brain volumes during excessively long running events.

Some health experts believe that the reduction in brain volume might be caused by the fact that the brain isn’t properly stimulated during incredibly long runs that last over several days. For 64 days, the runners simply looked down the road and concentrated on running. Still, the health experts are not certain that this is the cause.

Casual runners don’t need to worry about these type of effects. Temporary brain shrinkage has only been found in runners who run extremely long distances for several consecutive days. In fact, general exercise and running has been shown to have a positive effect on the brain in most cases.

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