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  The Herman Trend Alert

July 10, 2013

Exercise Does Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Up until recently, the conventional wisdom was that exercise was good for you, but did not necessarily reduce stress levels. Now, supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, a research team based at Princeton University found that physical activity really does reduce the body's response to stress.

What happens is that exercise "reorganizes" the brain, so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function. Specifically, in the study, exercise produced a large increase in the number of new neurons in the hippocampus, the brain region shown to regulate anxiety.

Published in the "Journal of Neuroscience", the researchers reported when mice allowed to exercise regularly experienced a stressor, e.g., exposure to cold water, their brains exhibited a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety. In other words, their stress response was mediated.

Moreover, running prevents the activation of new neurons in response to stress, the researchers found. In sedentary mice, stress activated new neurons in the hippocampus. However, after 6 weeks of running, the stress-induced activation of both new and mature neurons disappeared.

Likewise, the Mayo Clinic agrees. In an article titled, "Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress", they recommend exercise to reduce stress, because. . .

1. It pumps up endorphins. Physical activity helps increase the production of the brain's "feel-good" neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
2. Exercise is meditation in motion. After exercising, most of us have forgotten the day's irritations by concentrating only on the body's movements. Often people discover that regular exercise helps people remain calm and clear in everything that they do.
3. Exercise generally improves mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Many people find they sleep better, when they have exercised at some time during the day.

Understanding how the brain regulates anxious behavior gives us potential clues about helping people with anxiety disorders. Ultimately, we will able to harness this knowledge and other similar information to help make corporate learning and work activities optimally effective.


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