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November 24, 2009

Exercise Reduces Anxiety

People engage in a variety of activities to reduce the effects of stress. And many commonly engage in exercise for its stress reducing benefits. Now, researchers at Princeton University have found that exercise actually changes brain structure that helps buffer the individual from stress.

For years, both in popular imagination and in scientific circles, it has been a given that exercise enhances mood. Now, thanks in no small part to improved research techniques and a growing understanding of the biochemistry and the genetics of thought itself, scientists are beginning to tease out how exercise remodels the brain, making it more resistant to stress.

Long thought to be the "happy drug," serotonin activity is actually increased in rat brains during times of stress. Examination of dopamine levels and antioxidant levels induced by moderate exercise further indicates serotonin is not the answer to anxiety.

In PT school we have been taught that regular aerobic exercise helps reduce stress because we are reconditioning the sympathetic nervous system. Think about what happens in the body when a person is under stress. Heart rate and breathing go up, peristalsis slows down as does salivation. Pupils constrict in order to see more clearly the surrounding terrain. Blood is shunted toward muscles for fight or flight.

Now think about what happens when a person exercises. The heart rate and breathing rate goes up. More blood is shunted toward the muscles and away from digestive processes. But this "flight" action is forced through exercise. As the body recovers from exercise, heart rate slows, breathing slows, and blood redistributes to other areas of the body.

Once the body is conditioned to recover from exercise efficiently, it only makes sense that it will also translate to recovering from sympathetic stressors from the mind. In this way the mind/body connection can be manipulated through exercise to benefit the individual. It makes me want to strap on my running shoes and promote my peace of mind.

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Posted by linda at November 24, 2009 5:49 PM

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