London: A study has revealed that during periods of maximum physical effort, Kenyan runners are able to maintain their brain oxygenation within a stable range which contributes to their success in long-distance races.
Our blood carries the oxygen to our brain and the oxygen is vital to the brain's growth and healing. Oxygenating the brain well is required to promote brain-healing and its use in strenuous activities like running.
The researchers noted that early lifestyle factors such as the prenatal exposure to high altitudes and the high-level physical activity during childhood could explain why cerebral oxygenation in African athletes is maintained during periods of maximum effort.
The study involved a small but significant sample of elite Kenyan runners from the Kalenjin tribe.
"We can see that the Kenyans were capable of maintaining their oxygenation in a stable manner during the five km trial, with implications for the athletes' performance," said Jordan Santos-Concejero from the University of the Basque Country in Spain.
The cerebral oxygenation were studied during the exercise -- basically changes in oxyhaemoglobin, deoxyhaemoglobin, blood flow, arterial saturation, and so on.
It has been observed that when cerebral oxygenation in the brain's prefrontal lobule falls, the neural activity in this zone also drops. This zone is closely linked to the control of movement and to decision-making.
This drop in neuronal activity due to reduction in cerebral oxygenation may explain the drop in performance observed among European athletes, the study noted.
With the Kenyan athletes, this reduction does not occur.
"We believe that the neuronal activation in the prefrontal lobule is not compromised and perhaps this capacity of maintaining their cerebral oxygenation in a stable way may contribute to their great performance in long-distance trials," Santos-Concejero said.
The study has appeared in the Journal of Applied Physiology.