Exercise, Stress and The Brain

January 2, 2010 by  
Filed under health

Gretchen Reynolds from the New York Times wrote, several Sunday’s ago, an interesting article about how scientists are looking at how exercise can make the brain more stress-resistant ( http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/phys-ed-why-exercise-makes-yo u-less-anxious/ ). Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery that some of the neurons in rats that exercise respond differently to stress than the neurons of slothful rats.

Scientists have known for some time that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells (neurons) but not how, precisely, these neurons might be functionally different from other brain cells. Presented a few months ago at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago( http://www.sfn.org/am2009/ ) the researchers at Princeton University revealed their preliminary results of their remarkable discovery about the brains of rats that exercise.

In the experiment, scientists allowed one group of rats to run. Another set of rodents were 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 animals’ brains. 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.

We all know that exercise is good for us, but we are now discovering how exercise helps us in different ways on a molecular level. Thanks now to improved research techniques and a growing understanding of the biochemistry and genetics, scientists are beginning to find out how exercise remodels the brain, making it more stress-resistant.

The stress-reducing changes wrought by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight. However, as virtually every researcher agrees. In the University of Colorado experiments, for instance, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did. “Something happened between three and six weeks.” Says Benjamin Greenwood, Ph.D., a research associate in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, who helped conduct the experiments( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18300002 ).  “It’s not clear how that translates” into an exercise prescription for humans. We may require more weeks of working out, or maybe less. And no one has yet studied how intense the exercise needs to be. But the lesson is “don’t quit,’ Greenwood says. Keep running, cycling or swimming. You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your first jog, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular, biochemical changes will begin, Greenwood says, and eventually they become, he says, “profound.”

Here at oomphTV we strongly recommend any kind of exercise program to help give you both “oomph” and calmness in your life. Consider this study in the beginning of 2010 and take a look at the 94-year old runner Jack Kirk video for inspiration http://www.oomphtv.com/people-with-oomph-features-short-videos-of-peop le-over-forty-redefining-age/jack-kirk-the-dipsea-demon After reading this blogpost and viewing the video, create your own exercise program and don’t let it be just another New Year’s resolution. Happy New Year and best of luck! Please feel free to comment, we look forward to hearing from you in 2010.

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2 Responses to “Exercise, Stress and The Brain”
  1. Stacy says:

    Great article. The latest in neuroscience reveals that there are certain characteristics to apply to exercise that offer the most in terms of wellness and are great ways to turn the brain on (neuroplasticity).
    Here are a few elements that are key to theses ideas and are often utilized in such work as the Feldenkrais Method®:

    start to move slowly
    notice how your entire body moves with a particular movement
    vary the way you do a movement when possible
    bring your full attention to what you are doing
    notice if you need to use your eyes in a particular way, can you do a particular task  while using your peripheral vision? Think of this like using a wide angle lens to look out from.

    By approaching exercise in this way we move more like children and capture the essence of youthful and efficient movement . Remember when you adopt a new exercise program you consider these ideas for your 2010 goals.

  2. Idelle says:

    This is very good information, and inspiring to those of us who sometimes fall off the exercise wagon.  Thanks for passing it along.

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