Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exercise Induced Stress Relief Is Not Hocus Pocus

I am sure several of you out there are aware of all the talk about exercise being a great way to reduce stress, anxiety and improve your mood. You may even be familiar with the "feel good" neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that have largely been credited with boosting your morale after a nice little bout of exercise. It appears there is more to the story than just the release of some happy neurotransmitters. Recently, researchers at Princeton University discovered some interesting changes in the brains of rats who partook in regular running. In the study, scientists found that newer cells created by running in the rats, were less likely to express certain genes that are activated as a response to stress.

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.” - WebMD

Researchers stress that these neurological changes did not come overnight. In similar experiments conducted at the University of Colorado, they found no significant reduction in anxiety as a response to stress in the rats after three weeks of exercise. At the six week mark, the results did show a significant reduction in stress induced anxiety. Scientists concluded that some significant changes occur at the cellular level between weeks three and six as a result of performing physical activity. At this point they are not sure how long these adaptations may take in humans, although this research gives them great reason to believe exercise induced stress reduction is equally achievable by people.

It is important to keep in mind, as with all results that come from hard work, that changes take time! Gaining muscle takes time, losing fat takes time and adapting the body to handle stress in a more positive way takes time. I love to ask my clients how long it took them before they decided they needed to change their habits. Did you get fat overnight or was it a process of several months or even years? If yes, then why would you expect losing weight to be an easy process? Have you been skinny your whole life or maybe the majority of it? If so, then why would you expect to look like Mr. Universe in eight weeks? The reality is even the changes we don't want to see in our body and in our psychology slowly snowball over time, so why do we think that a couple of workouts or even a month will make our dreams come true? The physical,physiological and psychological benefits of exercise are real! They take work and they take discipline. You just have to give your body a little time to adapt to your new lifestyle!

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