Exercise makes it easier to bounce back from too much stress, according to a fascinating new study with mice.
It finds that regular exercise increases the levels of a chemical in the animals’ brains that helps them remain psychologically resilient and plucky, even when their lives seem suddenly strange, intimidating and filled with threats.
The study involved mice, but it is likely to have implications for our species, too, as we face the stress and discombobulation of the ongoing pandemic and today’s political and social disruptions.
Stress can, of course, be our ally. Emergencies and perils require immediate responses, and stress results in a fast, helpful flood of hormones and other chemicals that prime our bodies to act.
“If a tiger jumps out at you, you should run,” said David Weinshenker, a professor of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and the senior author of the new study. The stress response, in that situation, is appropriate and valuable.
But if, afterward, we “jump at every little noise” and shrink from shadows, we are overreacting to the original stress, Weinshenker continued. Our response has become maladaptive, because we no longer react with appropriate dread to dreadful things but with twitchy anxiety to the quotidian. We lack stress resilience.
In interesting past research, scientists have shown that exercise seems to build and amplify stress resilience. Rats that run on wheels for several weeks, for instance, and then experience stress through light shocks to their paws, respond later to unfamiliar — but safe — terrain with less trepidation than sedentary rats that also experience shocks.
Of course, this was a mouse study and mice are not people, so it is impossible to know from this research if exercise and galanin function precisely the same way in us, or, if they do, what amounts and types of exercise might best help us to cope with stress.
But regular exercise is so good for us, anyway, that deploying it now to potentially help us deal with today’s uncertainties and worries “just makes good sense,” Weinshenker said.
Medical reference: Yahoo News