New research released in July 2013 has shown that physical exercise actually reorganises the brain so it responds differently to stress and anxiety. This new evidence is further proof that exercise actively reduces stress and lessens the chance of anxiety.
The research has come from Princeton University and the findings were reported in The Journal of Neuroscience. Although the research was carried out on mice it showed that when they were allowed to exercise regularly then were presented with a stress signal their brains showed a spike in the activity of the specific neurons which shut of activity in the area of the brain known as the ventral hippocampus. This area of the brain is known to regulate anxiety and studies into this area of the brain have been limited previously.
The research has given a clear indicator of how the brain regulates anxious behaviours and gives us clues about how help can be provided for people with anxiety disorders. It once again shows the power of exercise for alleviating stresses.
The Stress Management Society a leading body in the battle against stress and anxiety disorders in the UK also states the importance of exercising in helping to release stress and from a biological perspective, we already know how the release of endorphins has a positive effect on the mind and body.
It generally doesn’t matter which exercise you choose to help relieve stress from your body. As the study has shown the excitement in the ventral hippocampus is blocked by the exercise itself and therefore the choice is yours. There are some types of exercise that naturally lend themselves to stress relief. We have discussed the brain boosting benefits of yoga previously but its stress relief benefits shouldn’t be ignored either.
Yoga is gentle and non-combative. You get the chance to reduce your anxiety levels and increase your personal fitness. It combines smooth and fluid movements with deep breathing and meditation giving you the chance to consciously measure your movements and activity as you go. It’s a great place to start for people first considering exercise as a treatment for a recognised anxiety disorder.
Running is another exercise which you can take at your own pace and within time you’ll be surprised by the results. The chance to get out amongst nature and free from the claustrophobia of modern living.
The NHS state on their own website that any type of exercise is useful as long as it suits you and you do enough of it and it also needs to be something you enjoy, so you stay motivated.
Further research recently released from Indiana University’s School of Medicine has suggested that exercise directly fuels the stress buffers in the brain. This means that it actively helps the brain cope with stress in a more manageable way. The evidence collated in the past has found that physically active people naturally have lower rates of anxiety and related disorders than sedentary people. So far no one has actually looked into why this is so and further research is currently being conducted to see if there are any clear links between exercise and the chemicals in the brain associate with anxiety, stress and depression.
The neuromodulator that current researchers are particularly interested in is norepinephrine which experts are suggesting may play a key role in the brain’s management of stress. This chemical is thought to play a central role in the modulating the actions of other neurotransmitters in the brain which are known to play a significant role in stress response. If norepinephrine can be proven to be modulating other neurotransmitters then scientists will be able to work with it in terms of how exercise effects it directly. The suggestion through this research seems to be that exercise gives the body more of a chance to practice how to deal with stress effectively. Exercise forces the brain and body to react as if stressed and communicate more effectively than usually. This ‘practice stress’ means the body is more able to deal with regular stress without too much difficulty.
The revelation in this theory is that rather than exercise actively stopping stress from occurring it simply prepares the body for dealing with stress better as it mimics the reactions necessary to handle stress effectively. A sedentary lifestyle means that when stressful and anxious episodes occur your body simply isn’t prepared for the reaction needed to get through the episode efficiently.
“Exercise is great for relieving stress” is something you’ll hear time and again and evidence is stacking up to prove it. It’s an area of interest which is rarely out of the press and researchers are keen to find definite proof that the human body benefits mentally as well as physically from exercise.
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