Exercise Can Make The Brain Resistant to Stress

In research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers have found that mice who had already been regularly exercising were more resistant to stressors. The research suggests that exercise reorganizes the brain so that the response to stress is reduced and anxiety will interact less with your ability to control your life. 

These findings may resolve a discrepancy in research related to the effect of exercise on the brain. It reduces anxiety while promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. Research from a Princeton-led team found that exercising has a suppressive effect on the brain’s natural anxiety response. 

Elizabeth Gould, the D. T. Warren Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, and her team examined the brain cells and regions important for anxiety regulation in order to help us better understand anxiety disorders. 

From an evolutionary standpoint, the research shows that the brain can be extremely adaptive and tailor its own processes to an organism’s lifestyle or surroundings. The high likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage. Feeling anxious can cause people to avoid situations or leave a space where they feel unsafe. This way of thinking seems logical, as someone less capable of handling a situation physically may be safer by avoiding it altogether. 

“Understanding how the brain regulates anxious behavior gives us potential clues about helping people with anxiety disorders. It also tells us something about how the brain changes itself to respond optimally to its own environment,” said Gould.

The researcher provided one group of mice with a running wheel and the other had no running wheel. The desire for animals to run is natural. Mice can run up to four miles at night. They were measured after six weeks and when they were exposed to cold water, the mice would continue running for a period despite being in an inhospitable environment. 

According to an analysis, active mice’s brains reacted differently to stress than comparatively sedentary ones because of a jump in “immediate early genes.” The water traumatized the neurons only in sedentary mice and caused a notable increase in these kinds of short-lived genes. The lack of these genes in the neurons of active mice suggested that their brain cells did not immediately leap into an excited state in response to the stressor. 

In contrast, the runner mouse’s brain showed signs of regulating its reactions to a greater extent than that of a sedentary mouse. There was increased activity in inhibitory neurons, which keep excitable neurons from getting out of control. 

These mice’s neurons released more of the neurotransmitter GABA. This tamps down neural excitement and allows them to feel less stressed.  

The study found that blocking the GABA receptor which calms neuron activity in the ventral hippocampus could cancel out some of the anxiety-reducing effects of exercise. 

The research demonstrates some of the beneficial effects of exercise.  Not only can exercise help you relieve stress now, it may also help you manage stressors in the future.  

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14 December, 2022

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