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Brain vs. bod: Which workout is best?

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Photo: Isaac Wendland/Unsplash

If you want to get the best bang for your booty, stick to your high-intensity interval training classes. But if it’s the best bang for your brain you’re after (a la Lena Dunham), skip the gym, lace up your sneakers, and hit the roads for a while.

A new study compared running, weight training, and HIIT to see which had the most significant neurological impacts. Running—especially long-distance running—came out on top. (Marathoners, rejoice!)

It’s no secret that exercise can actually change the structure and function of your brain, increasing brain volume and slowing age-related decline.

In this study, researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland used adult male rats to compare the three types of exercise, The New York Times reports. After being injected with a substance that marked new brain cells, the rats set off for their workouts.

The running group rats were given wheels in their cages on which they jogged moderately every day. The resistance-training rats had a climbing wall and small weights attached to their tails. (Don’t get any ideas, Tone House.) And the HIIT rat trainers were placed on little treadmills, where they alternated between sprints and a slow pace.

After seven weeks, the jogging rats had superior levels of neurogenesis (the development of new brain cells)—and the farther they ran, the more new cells their brains had developed.

Rats are different than people, of course (pizza love notwithstanding). But Miriam Nokia, a research fellow at the University of Jyvaskyla who led the study, tells the Times that “sustained aerobic exercise might be most beneficial for brain health also in humans.”

Your best bet? There’s no need to ditch the HIIT (the afterburn is tough to give up!). Instead, focus on variety, adding in a long run day or regular jogging sessions to keep your brain and body strong.

Maybe HIIT on ice would be a brain booster? It’s certainly a mind-blower.