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Looking for stress relief? How exercise builds a happy brain

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Happy run

lani_muelrath_hs_t-tap_ligh It’s not just about the endorphins. Or the burn off of stress hormones.

Or the simple pride of achievement from a workout completed that makes exercise a powerful agent of stress relief.

These are all important. But seems it’s more than that.

Exercise evidently builds in stress protection and stress relief by generating brain cells that do just that.   The literally build us a happier brain.

And play an important role in stress management.

How exercise makes you less anxious

Though scientists have known for some time that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells, or neurons, it has not been known exactly how these exercise -born neurons might be “functionally different”  from other brain cells.

Recent research at Princeton University is delivering new insights.   More data and evidence that the exercise you do actually provides you with stress relief.  An easily accessible tool for stress management through simply challenging your body to move around more.


Preliminary results of which were presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, scientists allowed one group of rats to run. Another set of rodents was not allowed to exercise.

Then all of the rats swam in cold water, which they don’t like to do. Afterward, the scientists examined the animals’ brains.

They found that the stress of the swimming activated neurons in all of the brains. (The researchers could tell which neurons were activated because the cells expressed specific genes in response to the stress.)

But the youngest brain cells in the running rats, the cells that the scientists assumed were created by running, were less likely to express the genes. They generally remained quiet.

The “cells born from running,” the researchers concluded, appeared to have been “specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience.” The rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm. ~ from Phys Ed.; why exercise makes you less anxious, NY Times

You knew exercise was good for your mood!

We’ve known for years – both practically and scientifically – that exercise enhances mood and improves mental outlook.

But how exercise might directly affect the psychological states of stress, mood and anxiety, was unclear.

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.

Keep moving!

All the more reason to keep moving during the busy holiday season.  Yes, it will help burn off some of those holiday calories, keep your system healthier and sustain and build muscle.

Yet now more than ever we are finding that regular exercise is a powerful stress management tool. Another undeniable connection between body and mind.

Get out there and move.  Doctor’s orders!   Next…


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© Lani Muelrath 2009 All Rights Reserved image:  novic


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