Friday, January 14, 2011

Research: Exercise Makes You Less Anxious


The things lab rats go through to illuminate our lives….  A report in the New York Times Magazine in November documented the results of a Princeton University study in which one group of rats was allowed to run, while another group was forbidden exercise.  Then the rats were forced to swim in cold water, which, like me, they hate doing.  The stress caused by the swim activated specific neurons in the brains of all the rats, but the brain cells of the running rats were less likely to show the stress-induced genes.

Studies from The University of Colorado, Boulder and The University of Houston have also examined rats under stressful conditions, and have found that exercising rats are calmer in the face of such circumstances than unexercised rats.

The conclusion scientists are drawing from these experiments is that moderate aerobic activity creates profound biochemical changes in brain chemistry, changes which promote the ability to handle stress with reduced anxiety.

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” said Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion.

Bless these little rats for sacrificing their bodies and brains to confirm the “how” aspect of what many millions of consistent exercisers already know, and which non-exercisers have yet to experience:  Exercise keeps you sane.  You may have stress in your life, as we all do, but you are better equipped to react to it calmly.  Your heart, your head, and your body chemistry all thank you for exercising.

My friend and client, Susan, already knows this.  I told her years ago.  So when she gets overwhelmed with life, she leaves me a voicemail along the lines of, “This may seem like a crazy time to exercise but SOMEBODY told me once that exercise reduces stress!”

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