Researchers at Princeton University have been doing some very interesting studies when it comes to exercise and anxiety. The researchers found that physical activity can actually reorganize the brain so that stress and anxiety have less of an effect than they do on someone who does not exercise regularly.
The experiment was done with mice that were exposed to a stressor before exercising. Mice that exercised regularly were exposed to a cold water bath, which caused them stress, and it was discovered that their brains displayed a spike in the activity of specific neurons that shut off the excitement in the ventral hippocampus, which is a region of the brain that regulates anxiety.
So what does this mean you might ask? What it means is that physical activity and exercise cause the brain to be much more adaptable and resilient to stress, at least in mice. The brain is highly adaptable and can tailor its processes to its surroundings or to a certain lifestyle.
The Fight or Flight Response
Evolutionarily speaking, humans are wired for the fight or flight response, which once served a very valuable purpose. Certain amounts of stress can be good because it may serve as a motivator. However, a little stress goes a long way and most humans do not need anxiety as a warning sign that predators are around.
This kind of research is great news for those of us who experience undo amounts of stress and anxiety on a regular basis. While mice are certainly not humans, the research offers us hope because it is a natural cure that doesn't require one to take a pill.
The ventral hippocampus is linked with anxiety but the effects on regulation have not been fully explored. Interestingly enough, exercise has been known to heighten the excitable brain cells while at the same time inducing a feeling of calm. The reason behind this is that certain neurons are actually created predisposed to various inclinations. Some are naturally excitable while others are just the opposite.
When the mice were tested, it seems that those who regularly exercised had brain activity that was excitable with the sedentary mice having similar neurons in much lower quantities.
The difference is that the mice who exercised regularly also had certain neurotransmitters called GABA, which act as inhibitors of brain activity quieting activity in the brain.
What does this suggest?
The long and short of this is that this area of the brain, known as the hippocampus, is much different when you compare physically active mice to more sedentary mice. What this means is that the mice that were more physically active not only have more excitatory neurons but also more inhibitory neurons that can help manage stress and anxiety.
Now we all know that mice are not people, but this is still promising research. Other studies have been done, according to the researchers at Princeton that suggest that physical exercise can reduce anxiety in humans as well.
The fact of the matter is that stress and anxiety are always going to be present, because life can very stressful at times. Finding ways to better manage stress and anxiety can help you in the long run, because stress and anxiety can lead to more long term problems like lower immunity and risk of illness or disease.
So the next time you find yourself stressed or anxious, the best thing you can do is to take a brisk walk or engage in some type of physical activity to take your mind off of things. In the end, your body will thank you.
Neuroscience; new data from princeton university illuminate findings in neuroscience. (2013). Pain & Central Nervous System Week, , 152. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1366660802?accountid=458